Turn It Out with Tiler Peck and Friends

Sadler’s Wells, London
March 9, 2023

Turn It Out with Tiler Peck started as a daily ballet class streamed from the dancer’s home during lockdown. Despite the inability to dance in theatres at the time, Peck, the acclaimed New York City Ballet ballerina, did not hesitate to make use of her free time to put together her own show in collaboration with many other artists.  The result is an evening of four very diverse pieces, which had its European debut at Sadler’s Wells.

The show opens Thousandth Orange, choreographed Peck herself. Despite the great technique and cleanliness of the dancers (most of which are former members of New York City Ballet), the choreography felt a bit safe and lacking surprise. Though executed brilliantly, the dance felt engraved in a monotonous rhythm, and lacked a bit of originality and feeling. The music, composed by Caroline Shaw and played live on stage, was a delight to listen to, however.

Roman Mejia and Tiler Peck in Swift Arrow by Alonso King
Photo Christopher Duggan

In contrast, Swift Arrow, Alonzo King, was an utter delight. From the very first movement, Peck and Roman Mejia captivated as they showed their mastery in the art of movement. Starting from their own solos, the choreography led to an intense dialogue that made them merge into one.

The pair made the intricate choreography seem easy. They owned each and every movement as if each combination was tailored to their bodies. They were the owners of space and time too, playing with it as they saw fit. It was a true demonstration of what a dancer can do when controlling the rhythm, tempo and quality of movement in a technically challenging piece. Swift Arrow really was excellent and left no one unmoved.

Tiler Peck and Michelle Dorrance in Time Spell
Photo Christopher Duggan

Time Spell brought something completely different. The very original and special piece is choreographed, as well as performed, by three spectacular women: Michelle Dorrance, Jillian Meyers and Tiler Peck, who bring their very distinct dance backgrounds together in a piece that incorporates their different worlds on one stage.

Despite their differences, the three women share great musicality, vitality and passion for their art. When dancing together they create a singular synergy, finding commonalities while remaining true to themselves, their style and their particular way of moving.

Time Spell is not only spectacular in overcoming the differences between ballet and tap, but also features impressive vocal improvisation by two fantastic singers, Aaron Marcellus Sanders and Penelope Wendtlandt. It was magical to see how we progressed from ballet to tap, which adds sound creation to body movement, and how that worked as the bridge to the vocalists and their song formulation.

Nonetheless, there are a few moments when the piece does not quite fit together as one might hope. Some sections have two groups, each moving in the shared space, but with no other obvious connection whatsoever. It was a little hard to decide which to prioritise or understand how they came together, if they did at all. It was also difficult to see the whole cast as one organism. Despite choosing movements that were accessible to all, their ways of performing them did not seem homogenous. A classical corps the ballet it was not, although it did give an opportunity to appreciate the strengths and singularities of each individual dancer. Regardless, Time spell is a beautiful and exciting piece that shows, no matter your background, in the end we all speak the same language.

Turn It Out ends with William Forsythe’s The Barre Project (Blake Works II). It is magnificent.

The curtain opens to reveal a ballet barre illuminated by a very dim light. Such a simple but strong image. The barre is a main tool for every ballet dancer. Every day, when you arrive at the studio, you start at the barre. It has been your friend since your early days, always there to support you through your growth. When something doesn’t work, when you are injured, when you are starting a new day ready to challenge yourself… Whatever the circumstances, it always goes back to the barre.

But a barre on stage can also be a dancer’s worst nightmare. Showing the audience your side profile, your raw turn out, your basics… It is like presenting yourself fully naked, ready to be judged.

The Barre Project (Blake Works II) by William Forsythe
Photo CLI Studios

What is most ingenious of how Forsythe built the choreography is that the barre is and isn’t there at the same time. It is there to support and benefit the dancers’ fast movements and intricate footwork but equally does not interfere with their bigger steps when they need more space.

The choreography itself is complex and well-thought, and highlights the dancer’s ability to be quick, precise and technical. It was also very nice to see how, in between the very basic ballet steps and technique, it incorporates more curvy, dense neoclassical moves. The dancers, Peck, Mejia, Brooklyn Mack and Lex Ishimoto showed their excellence in every move. Overall, an exhilarating piece to watch.