Unlike many young choreographers, Justin Peck does not confuse gloominess with profundity. The 26-year-old’s Everywhere We Go (returning later this month and in autumn) is mainly cheerful and always hopeful. What the ballet lacks in drama – shaped as it is after its appealingly episodic original score by latter-day folkie Sufjan Stevens – it compensates for in its portrait of a generation, Peck’s generation. The 35-minute, nine-part work conveys his people not with story but in the spirit of its steps.
In sync with young architect Karl Jensen’s Escher-like backdrop, the ballet emphasises clarity and contrast of shape. Peck juxtaposes circling arms with angled or pin-straight legs and meanwhile sets the body gyring. Everywhere We Go abounds in long unspooling phrases – with the dancer switching legs rather than direction – as well as the opposite: sudden changes of course at the very peak of a phrase. The dance captures the thrill of natural laws abetting impulse – of, say, zigzagging downhill on a bicycle.
But accelerating speed and surprising configurations distinguished Peck’s previous four pieces (in less than two years!) for New York City Ballet, his home company. In fact, these attributes are beginning to amount to a signature style. New to Everywhere We Go was how often the dancers pushed against each other to propel themselves into the air or across the stage or around and around. Like friends, they helped each other and were helped.
Despite the movement’s classical base, Everywhere We Go erases ballet’s usual marks of hierarchy. The principals may have mainly danced in pairs or alone and the corps members travelled in groups, but with all the women dressed in sailor-striped tops and all the men in soft colour-blocked combinations (both by former NYCB ballerina Janie Taylor), anyone might have blended in or stood out. And at one point or another, everyone did.
Paradoxically, the levelling made the dancers seem more individual, and personable too. They were not well-mannered princes but good-natured people. When, late along, dancers balancing on legs drawn up tight began to crumple to the floor – women and men, corps members and principals, all across the stage – someone ran to catch each of them on their way down. One special someone for everyone.