There are few choreographers who can say they’ve had two works presented by New York City Ballet in the same day. It’s a very short list that includes Balanchine, Robbins, Martins, Wheeldon, and—after this Saturday—Justin Peck. At the matinée, his celebrated Year of the Rabbit, which debuted last October, will be danced, mere hours before the second-ever performance during the evening show of his latest work, Paz de la Jolla, which has its world première tonight.
This weekend’s welcome windfall comes, Peck’s immense talent notwithstanding, thanks to a scheduling quirk. Paz de la Jolla was a very recent addition to tonight’s “New Combinations” program, slotted in last November after it became clear that the commissioned score originally planned would not be ready in time. Peck ended up with mere days between receiving the assignment and his first rehearsals, a notably compressed timeline in a realm where works are often scheduled years in advance. “I was worried because I had put in a great deal of preparation for the last ballet I did,” he explains of the years of research and planning that went into Year of the Rabbit, “and this was like starting from scratch with about two weeks to really make the preparations.”
What resulted will be, even for viewers unaware of the work’s history, an assured step forward for one of today’s most promising young choreographers. After the abstract pure dance of Year of the Rabbit and his In Creases, which will be revived during City Ballet’s upcoming spring season, Paz de la Jolla has a more concrete and specific feeling, inspired as it was by what Peck calls “personal anecdotes.” “It definitely has a little bit more of a narrative and a little bit more of a literal setting,” he says. “We have the place in mind, we have the coastline in mind, we have this concept of nature being dangerous and beautiful at the same time, and how we as a human race respond to that. It’s a little bit more in touch with humanity.”
The aforementioned coastline would be that of southern California, where Peck grew up. That locale, in fact, was what first attracted his attention to the score, by the Czech modernist Bohuslav Martinů. “When I was researching his music, I saw this piece that was titled Sinfonietta La Jolla and immediately became very curious about that, because it was written as kind of a tribute to the area in California where I’m from,” he says. That sun-drenched territory is also referenced in the costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, a collection of charmingly individualized riffs on 1950′s swimwear that cohere through color and style without the uniformity so common in ballet outfits.
As Peck’s third new work for City Ballet in the last year, Paz de la Jolla demonstrates what can be seen as some of the hallmarks of his developing æsthetic, including a dazzling intricacy in his corps architecture and a candid lightheartedness and ease. Any concerns about a lack of preparedness are, it becomes obvious, uncalled for. “It’s strange because I was worried about not having enough time to do it, but when we actually got down to choreographing the ballet, we finished it very quickly,” he says. “It just naturally happened over the course of a few weeks, so I started to second-guess everything. Then I had to just force myself to not make any drastic changes and remind myself to have confidence in the process and the organic way it all developed.”
Paz de la Jolla premieres tonight as part of the “New Combinations” evening, with additional performances on Saturday, Wednesday, and Friday, February 8, at New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center, New York. Video by New York City Ballet.