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Friday, September 26, 2014

Justin Peck on Murder Ballades

Murder Ballades. Photo: Laurent Phillippe

L.A. Dance Project brings to the Next Wave Festival repertory by three exciting choreographers who have been in the news lately. Benjamin Millepied, ex-New York City Ballet principal, founded LADP in 2012. He has established a reputation for creating challenging dances in the classical vocabulary while working with unexpected collaborators. He is also the next artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet, which recently premiered a critically acclaimed ballet by Millepied. His work Reflections, with music by David Lang and visuals by Barbara Kruger, comes to BAM Oct 16 to 18.

William Forsythe, an artist well known to BAM audiences for his daring theatrical and movement experimentation, recently announced his upcoming retirement from The Forsythe Company, based in Germany, and will join the University of Southern California as a dance professor in 2015, teaching choreographic process and composition. LADP will dance Quintett—a profoundly moving work to Gavin Bryar’s haunting music, which Forsythe’s previous company, Ballett Frankfurt, performed in the 2001 Next Wave Festival.
Murder Ballades. Photo: Laurent Phillippe

LADP also performs Murder Ballades by Justin Peck, recently named resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, where he is a soloist. In recent seasons, he has emerged as a critically lauded young voice, crafting smart patterns and emotionally evocative phrases, and eliciting fine performances from his casts. He works with composers perhaps less familiar to traditional balletomanes; a number are BAM artists, such as Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner, who composed the pseudonymous suite for this piece. (Dessner returns in November with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus in Black Mountain Songs.) Sterling Ruby created the visual design. Justin Peck recently discussed Murder Ballades.

Susan Yung: Is Bryce’s music a series of songs, or is it a continuous flow, and will it be played live?

Justin Peck: Bryce’s music is a series of six separate movements. The body of music is inspired by American folk songs of the 1930s and ‘40s, specifically murder ballades. Bryce took some of these melodies/concepts and synthesized them into a classically-based chamber piece with complex rhythms and a strong pulse. The music will be played live by the esteemed chamber music group, eighth blackbird, which we are very excited about.

SY: Is there a discernible narrative to Murder Ballades?

JP: There is no literal narrative, but there is a certain tone and feel to the ballet. When I created the work, I would look towards the lyrics of the original folk songs as a basis. This became especially apparent in the two duets within the ballet, which focus on the murder content in the original folk songs.

SY: You’ve choreographed a number of dances with your native company, NYCB, but with LADP, you’re working with new dancers. How did that affect the development of the choreography?

JP: Working with the dancers at LADP was both challenging and liberating. The dancers are such grounded, natural movers. They are not inhibited by the rules of classical ballet technique. At the same time, there is much less focus on line and static imagery. These antagonistic qualities led me to concentrate on creating constant motion within the piece. I found the specific process exhilarating.

SY: And they wear sneakers… was that very different than working with women on pointe?
JP: I enjoyed working with sneakers as an extension of the dancers’ facility. There are certain movements that are possible with the assistance of the sneaker. We came to these possibilities through extensive experimentation, and found that the sneaker provided its own sub-platform for stylized movement. Beyond that, I have always been fascinated by how dance often fluctuates between artistry and athleticism. Having the sneaker come into play within the piece helped me to further explore this notion.

SY: How did Sterling’s visual concepts come about—did he create them after seeing the choreography, or in tandem?

JP: Sterling Ruby was brought on mid-process. He observed a few rehearsals, and then created a mock-up for the potential backdrop. We were all blown away by what he developed in relation to the content of the ballet. I felt as though Sterling’s contribution helped to fill out the piece. It provides a setting, while maintaining its abstract nature. Along with the assistance of lighting designer Brandon Baker, the backdrop is versatile enough to fluctuate throughout the course of the ballet.

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