ARTICLE: No tutus or tiaras here: NYC Ballet ballerina set to ‘Turn it Out’ with friends in San Diego
October 29, 2023
Bakersfield native Tiler Peck’s new show features award-winning performers in an evening of diverse dance
Tiler Peck is no ordinary prima ballerina. That was evident in 2017, when she appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and performed what looked like a floating moonwalk on pointe shoes to a pop song by the group Portugal. The Man.
Critics have called the award-winning principal dancer for the New York City Ballet a “whirlwind” and her seemingly magical technique has caused her to be accused of “stopping and starting time.”
She directs, choreographs and performs in “Turn it Out with Tiler Peck and Friends” being presented by La Jolla Music Society at the San Diego Civic Theatre this week, sans the tutus and tiaras.
Instead, the show is an assemblage of virtuosic dance artists who integrate tap, hip-hop and jazz movement styles with the precision of ballet.
The program includes Peck performing works made for her by choreography icons Alonzo King and William Forsythe, and she created the dance “Thousandth Orange” to live music by Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw.
Another highlight is ‘Time Spell,” an exploration of tap and ballet movement that resulted from a collaboration between Peck, tap dance star Michelle Dorrance, her company member Byron Tittle and “La La Land” dancemaker Jillian Meyers.
“I didn’t have the background of a typical ballerina,” admits California-born Peck. “My mom was my first teacher. She just celebrated 50 years of having a dance studio in Bakersfield. I started with every style of dance and ballet was actually my least favorite. My mom, being a dancer, said, ‘Look, you don’t have to be a ballerina or like ballet. But you are going to take ballet because that is where good technique comes from. It will make you good at whatever kind of dancer you want to be.’ ”
Peck’s career began on Broadway. She auditioned for the revival of “The Music Man” at the age of 11 and flew to New York with her grandmother to perform in the show for a year. During the day, she attended the School of American Ballet and learned to love the discipline.
Peck joined New York City Ballet at age 16 and by age 20, she earned the position of principal dancer.
She has performed featured roles in “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Swan Lake” and “Romeo and Juliet,” as well as in works by choreographers that include George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Christopher Wheeldon and Justin Peck (no relation).
But her cheery, dimpled smile and diminutive stature (she’s 5 feet, 5 inches tall) contrasts with her serious determination and a sizeable desire to be more than a ballerina.
Before the pandemic, Peck was well-known in New York as a dancer, actress and fashionista.
Designer Valentino Garavani, for instance, accompanied her to the Tony Awards in 2019 wearing one of his creations. She also flexed her acting skills in the musical “Marie, Dancing Still,” followed by the Netflix teen drama “Tiny Pretty Things.”
“I want to be different,” affirms Peck, now 34. “I have always had an interest in a variety of styles and maybe that’s why I like to put myself in a lot of different scenarios. I love a challenge — that’s just my personality. That’s how I improve as a dancer. My attitude has always been that way.”
Ironically, it was during the COVID-19 lockdown, when dancers were deprived of contact and all shows were halted, that Peck’s career really took off.
Professional dancers have to maintain physical conditioning, so, Peck decided to conduct a daily dance class on Instagram Live called #TurnItOutWithTiler.
She invited New York-based guests like the Radio City Rockettes and Sarah Jessica Parker to participate, hoping a few dozen students would take notice.
“That was my way of keeping people dancing, as well as myself during the pandemic,” Peck says.
“It became this culture and I had 15,000 people a day dancing with me from their houses. I got to connect with so many people from all over the world. One time, I had Josh Groban singing and I would teach everybody a dance.”
Since the pandemic, Peck has authored two children’s books and she designs and models a line of dancewear.
Her directorial debut has been an especially rewarding endeavor, one that offers insight into her capabilities.
“You can be a great dancer but not be good at directing, producing or standing in the front of the room,” she reasons.
“But I feel a love for expressing myself in a different way and I’m actually pretty good at it. As a dancer, you are often told what to do. But in “Turn it Out,” I get to put all of my ideas into a show. The hardest part for me is finding a moment to take a breath.”
La Jolla Music Society presents Turn it Out with Tiler Peck and Friends
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego
Tickets: $28.50 to $128.50
Phone: (858) 459-3728
Luttrell is a freelance writer.