Sabi Varga/Boston Ballet
Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen calls Justin Peck “the new kid on the block at the topmost level,” and the company has wasted no time in presenting a seminal work by the young choreographer. For Boston Ballet’s upcoming “Parts in Suite” March 9-April 7, Peck’s “In Creases” will be the program’s centerpiece, framed by a reprise of Jorma Elo’s “Bach Cello Suites” and the company premiere of “Pas/Parts 2016” by William Forsythe, continuing Boston Ballet’s ongoing partnership with the acclaimed choreographer.
Peck just turned 30, but already the Bessie Award winner is well established as New York City Ballet’s resident choreographer and in demand internationally for dances of impressive architectural craftsmanship, muscular vigor, fleet exuberance — and hip collaborators. One Vanity Fair headline asked “Is Justin Peck Making Ballet Cool Again?,” calling him “the hottest choreographic commodity in the ballet world.”
Nissinen elaborates, “Today you have a lot of good contemporary choreographers, but there’s a shortage of people who create work based on classical ballet, and to have someone with his innate talent and range and musicality is wonderful.”
A soloist at New York City Ballet in addition to being its resident choreographer, Peck grew up in San Diego, where he studied at California Ballet before moving to New York at the age of 15 to train at the School of American Ballet, the official school of NYCB. He became a company apprentice in 2006, joined the corps de ballet in 2007, and was promoted to soloist in 2013.
Along the way, Peck also started making dances, creating his first ballet in 2009. He has sincecreated more than 30 ballets for companies ranging from San Francisco Ballet and LA Dance Project to Paris Opera Ballet, and he’s been the subject of a documentary, “Ballet 422.”
He has also choreographed for film (“Red Sparrow”) and created a collection of charming video teasers for his ballets. The teaser for “The Times Are Racing” unfolds in a subway station and features dancers (including Peck himself) in sneakers performing balletic movement fused with tap.
“I thought those teasers would be a good way to connect with newer generations, kind of like movie trailers,” Peck said recently by phone from New York, where he is choreographing the Broadway revival of “Carousel,” which starts previews in February.
However, artistic home turf continues to be NYCB, for which he has created 16 ballets. “In Creases” was the first, premiering in 2012. Choreographed for four couples, it is set to Philip Glass’s “Four Movements for Two Pianos.”
Peck says Glass’s minimalist score felt like a blank canvas for shaping time and space in exploring how energy affects an ensemble of individuals, and the impact of one person moving in and out of the group. He describes the work’s opening as thinking of the dancers possessing a kind of magnetic charge.
“I wanted the effect of two positive against two negative, with a fast, almost impulsive quality,” he says. Though the work has no narrative, he claims, “Nothing is purely abstract. There’s always a human point of departure. I like making works that allow the viewer to meet the work halfway.”
Nissinen calls “In Creases” beautifully shaped and very smart, “an interesting approach to the music, not revolutionary, but a damn, damn good ballet. It asks [the dancers’] knives to be very sharp, very clear with technique, and at the same time a lot of release — there’s a speed and precision that you can’t muscle. You have to let it happen. It has to have that oxygen to be organic.”
Boston Ballet principal dancer Lia Cirio says the dancers love rehearsing the work, though it’s not without its challenges. “It’s very fast and very musical, and sometimes it feels like there’s a step to every count.”
She cites one section featuring a center line of dancers front to back, arms extending like a multi-limbed Hindu god, each with a set of different patterns in sharp, quick sequence. Not your typical ballet phrase. “Remembering those movements at first was like a mind game,” she recalls with a laugh, “a tongue twister for your arms.”
The work is full of little glints of such visual whimsy, as well as striking geometrical patterns that shift in both symmetrical and unpredictable ways — lines that unfurl off-center, eye-catching angled leaps, balances that don’t resolve quite where one would expect.
“I’m always conscious of what has come before me and want to pay respect to that, but I don’t want to fall into cliché,” Peck says. “I’m always conscious of balancing tradition and pushing forward.”
Managing creative energy with his performing career is a balancing act as well. He plans to dance another couple of years. “I do like the day-to-day of being present as a dancer and to get out there onstage and learn from other works, especially [George] Balanchine and [Jerome] Robbins,” he says. “There’s something to be gained to be inside those works.”
At Boston Opera House, March 9-April 7. Tickets $35-$164. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org
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