Q&A with Choreographer Justin Peck

In the ballet world, it seems like choreographer Justin Peck is everywhere. As New York City Ballet's resident choreographer and a soloist with that company, he has choreographed works for many prominent companies and institutions including Lincoln Center’s Fall for Dance Festival, School of American Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, and LA Dance Project, among others. Peck’s first work for SF Ballet, In the Countenance of Kings, premiered in the 2016 Season. The following Q&A is from fall 2015.

SF Ballet: You were here last in the fall. What projects have you been working on since then?
Justin Peck: I created my largest ballet to date for New York City Ballet,The Most Incredible Thing, which debuted in February and included 57 dancers (11 of them children), scenery and costumes–the scale was enormous. Right before I came here, I was in Paris setting my ballet In Creases on Paris Opera Ballet which was my choreographic debut with that company. During this past fall season and the Nutcracker run, I was also dancing. I actually debuted in Symphony in C, which I really enjoyed, just two days after The Most Incredible Thing premiered. So yeah (laughs), I’ve been busy.

SF Ballet: What’s your impression of our Company dancers?
 One word that comes to mind is balanced. Their dancing ability is very strong and technically, they’re great, but I’ve also found them to be well-rounded human beings–they seem to have found a good balance between their careers and their personal lives, which isn’t always easy to do as a dancer. The Company also seems to really value and emphasize new work, which I like.

SF Ballet: What do you want audiences to know about In the Countenance of Kings before they see it? [Premiered in the 2016 Season]
The music that this ballet is set to, Sufjan Steven’s The BQE, is something I’ve been listening to since 2007. The music was inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and I’ve absorbed and visually interpreted some of its themes–traffic patterns, gridlock and recycled energy–into the ballet’s choreography.

SF Ballet rehearses Peck’s In the Countenance of Kings. (© Erik Tomasson)

SF Ballet: How do you choose the designers for this work?
Justin: With each ballet, the team I choose is dependent on what we’re trying to accomplish. With In the Countenance of Kings, the music is central so I felt that visually, I didn’t want to compete with it. As a result, the costumes are stripped down–just leotards. The lighting for this ballet is relatively complex, but it leaves the space open for the dancers to present the movement. I’ve collaborated with the same lighting designer, Brandon, on 10 of my ballets.

SF Ballet: What do you think of San Francisco?
Justin: I love San Francisco–I might not get back on the plane! The city is gorgeous–I love the architecture and easy access to nature and of course, the food is great! I also really like that the city values dance as an art form.


Join us for San Francisco Ballet's premiere of Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes in Program 2 Bright Fast Cool Blue. Buy tickets.