For two weeks, starting Saturday, July 29, Ms. Peck will be resident high in the Colorado Rockies at the Vail International Dance Festival. Damian Woetzel has been that festival’s artistic director since 2006; thanks to his faith in her, Vail is where Ms. Peck’s ever-increasing versatility has been most evident.
Ms. Peck and Mr. Woetzel both learned Twyla Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite” for the 2008 festival; she was 19, he was more than 20 years her senior. It was Mr. Woetzel’s final appearance as a dancer. In later years at the festival, Ms. Peck has been partnered by Jeffrey Cirio, Herman Cornejo, James Whiteside (all principals of American Ballet Theater) and Sergei Polunin (then at the Royal Ballet); she has danced Paul Taylor’s modern dance idiom barefoot and Memphis jookin with Lil Buck; and she has teamed with the master clown-actor Bill Irwin in “Time It Was.”
She’ll be busy this year in Vail. Among much else, she’ll dance a new work by the tap choreographer Michelle Dorrance and two items by Balanchine, the “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” with Mr. Cirio, and the coloratura show piece “Divertimento Brillante,” with Joseph Gordon (City Ballet).
It was in the “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” at the Guggenheim Museum in 2009 that Ms. Peck first revealed her hummingbird-like ability to pause (as if hovering) in midsequence, braking the flow without jarring, commanding time as lesser mortals know not how. This pas de deux, familiar around the world for decades, has had no finer interpreter this century.
So who is this paragon, this nonpareil? Ms. Peck, now 28, has bright dark eyes, dark hair and dimples like vertical grooves on either side of a bright smile. She was born in Bakersfield, Calif., in 1989; she became an apprentice at City Ballet in 2004, at 15. At 20, she became a principal. Ms. Peck has all the jumps and turns in the book; she can dance both the 19th-century ballets “La Sylphide,” “Coppelia” and “The Sleeping Beauty” and the peaks of full-out Balanchine bravura, “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No.2” and “Theme and Variations.”
When I began watching her 10 years ago, she was 18 and already an accomplished whiz kid, spinning her way with dazzling ease through the taxing lead fourth movement of George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C.” Yet she very soon demonstrated that there was far more than whiz in her armory.
When Peter Martins cast his new “Romeo and Juliet” that spring with four pairs of teenage lovers, she was the Juliet who, though at times too polished, took the ballet on the largest dramatic arc, bright to dark, innocence to passion. In those days, Mr. Woetzel was City Ballet’s most prestigious male principal; he danced a number of works with the young Ms. Peck as his partner, including Jerome Robbins’s “Fancy Free.” You could see how his tuition helped to bring her to theatrical maturity.
For almost three years, Ms. Peck was married to Robert Fairchild, another City Ballet principal; this June, company representatives announced their separation. There was a moment when she, Mr. Fairchild and his sister, Megan (another City Ballet principal), all took sabbaticals to appear in musicals. Ms. Peck’s, “The Little Dancer” at the Kennedy Center in 2014, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, had the shortest life; she played Marie van Goethem, the title character — the girl immortalized in Edgar Degas’s “Little Dancer” statue. Ms. Peck, better than the show, demonstrated that she can sing and speak expressively as well as dance.
City Ballet fans know Ms. Peck as one of a generation of impressively dissimilar young women — Sterling Hyltin, Sara Mearns, Teresa Reichlen — whose ascent to leading roles over the last 10 or so years has taken the company out of its former doldrums. Thanks to their achievements, some observers with long memories have even asked whether some roles were danced this well back in the day of Balanchine and Robbins. No, such questions can never be answered — but that they are being asked indicates that the core of City Ballet’s classicism is bright again.
This spring, Ms. Peck also danced two new works, revealing further facets of herself. “The Times are Racing,” by Justin Peck (no relation), is a ballet of youthful protest, danced in sneakers. (She had performed in its premiere in January.) “ Returning to it in May with a new partner, Daniel Applebaum, she played it with greater simplicity, again and again turning her face to him with a trusting quiet that added a further dimension to the whole work. These two became the innocents at the heart of the surrounding maelstrom — mutually absorbed, supporting each other by turns, a sweet image of modern trust.
In the world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Odessa” in May, Ms. Peck had one of her most adult roles to date. This ballet has three lead couples, all of whom know one another before the curtain rises. Love, only one ingredient in these relationships, solves no problems here. Ms. Peck is in the relationship characterized by the most violence — her partner, Taylor Stanley, carries her offstage at one point while she helplessly shakes her head in unhappy perplexity. And it is she who releases the greatest anger in the work. In one sequence, backed by the women of the corps, she advances to the audience in a series of turns, each time furiously opening a leg to one side like a kick to the air.
What limitations does this diverse luminary have? At one end of the spectrum, Ms. Peck has sometimes been too blandly sweet, too synthetic to have depth. At the other, she has seemed too knowingly artful, far from innocent as she played with music and balance. Yet my impression is that her devotion to her art has been eliminating those opposite tendencies.
She’s not the grandest of dancers. Her magic seldom includes the ability to make the air beyond her seem part of her music; and she has no my-will-be-done hauteur. In a few roles — Terpsichore in Balanchine’s “Apollo,” Sugarplum Fairy in his “The Nutcracker,” the central pas de deux of his “Symphony in Three Movements” — she’s absolutely accomplished without seeming, as yet, well suited. Her account of the brilliantly syncopated “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” solo in Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” is one of the peaks of her art. Yet there’s more drama, even darkness, to the same ballet’s “The Man I Love” pas de deux than she has yet discovered.
How can she have done so much and still be only 28? One day, “Swan Lake” will surely come her way (recently, she worked on the antiheroine Odile’s solo variation with Mr. Ratmansky). When it does, it can only challenge and reveal her anew. Mr. Peck, Mr. Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon are among those who have repeatedly created new works for her; others will surely follow. It hardly matters that others ask “Was it really once better than this?” when they watch her in top form — she herself keeps showing she can surpass herself.
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