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October 3, 2013 6:09 pm
By the pricking of these thumbs, something gifted this way comes. Thus my feelings as I watched Justin Peck’s Murder Ballads which opened the triple bill by Benjamin Millepied’s ensemble, appearing briefly at Sadler’s Wells this week. The troupe comprises two women and five men, all determinedly earnest; costuming is dreariest streetwear; the programme also brings Millepied’s Reflections, an interminable vexation to the spirit set to the world’s most tedious piano score (a bold-faced rival to Satie’s Vexations by David Lang), and William Forsythe’s Quintet, with its excruciating accompaniment of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”, whose obsessive repetitions are about as welcome as an outbreak of dengue. But Peck’s contribution is stylish, witty, a promise – and proof – of fascinating talent.
Peck, a dancer with New York City Ballet, has already produced choreography that has won serious approval and, if this subtle piece is anything to go by, knows how to make dances born of their music, living easily in it. Bryce Dessner’s fascinating score is based on American ballads about murder, and I saw choreography of buoyant energy, with gesture sweetly and skilfully set within movement which sailed along with its music, lived in it, and engaged its cast in actions that sat happily, flatteringly on their bodies, and bothered not at all with a carrier-pigeon task as “messenger”. (The Millepied and Forsythe jaw-breakers on display had so much to say that there was no time for dance of any value or interest.)
Peck is clearly a child of his parent troupe, educated and conditioned – lucky him! – by the example of Balanchine and Robbins choreographies. Certainly, this small creation has all the marks of talent: felicity of means, grace of manner, ease of construction, and all, be it said, achieved at the cost of who-knows-what sweated labour. He is a choreographer, and provided that popular demand does not corrode his gifts, we have great things to hope for. This LA troupe otherwise needs to escape from the epidemic glums that infected the evening, and make serious efforts to obtain some decorative wit and elegance.
(for Justin Peck)
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