Talking Murder Ballads + Sneakers With Justin Peck

February 12, 2014

When the Paris Opéra Ballet announced last year that Benjamin Millepied would be taking its reins, the French started making jokes about Natalie Portman and the Americans started worrying that he’d ditch his newly-created LA Dance Project. Luckily, Millepied is still on board at LADP, and it looks like the troupe is only getting hotter. (Keep your eyes peeled for our story in Dance Magazine‘s March issue.) The latest coup? Snagging a residency at downtown LA’s über-trendy Ace Hotel. Its theater is a renovated 1920s movie house turned permformance venue—and LADP will present the inaugural performance next weekend, from February 20–22. On the appropriately hip program is the U.S. premiere of Justin Peck’s Murder Ballads, set to music by Bryce Dessner of indie rock band The National. I recently spoke to Peck to learn more.


What’s the piece like?

The music takes its inspiration from folk songs, specifically murder ballads written in the 1930s and 40s. They have these very bright melodies, but if you listen closer, there are a lot of darker undertones. The choreography is based on that idea.


Was this your first time working with non-ballet dancers?

This was even my first time not working with pointe shoes!


You used sneakers—what was that like?

Really fun. I’d been dancing in a couple Jerome Robbins works at New York City Ballet where we wear sneakers. It shapes the movement in a different way, it provides a different foundation. I wanted to play with that.


Do you think Benjamin Millepied’s work has influenced you at all?

I tried not to look too much at his work for this commission because these dancers do a lot of it. But I’ve been watching Ben’s pieces for several years at City Ballet, and he’s someone I respect a great deal.


Would you be interested in a career path like his, with your own company—or two?

[Laughs] It’s hard to say. I’m sure my interest will probably shift at a certain point, but right now I’m really just focused on exploring choreography and dancing at City Ballet.


What excites you about this performance?

The Ace Hotel. It’s a totally renovated old movie house, and is just beautiful. I’m so excited that we get to give the inaugural performance.


Justin Peck’s Murder Ballads