San Francisco Ballet

2017 SFB Program 01 Notes

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IN THE COUNTENANCE OF KINGS PRODUCTION CREDITS Music: "The BQE" by Suan Stevens used by arrangement with New Jerusalem Music Publishing, publisher and copyright owner. Music of Suan Stevens orchestrated for San Francisco Ballet by Michael P. Atkinson. Costumes constructed by Ellen Warren, Portland, Oregon. In the Countenance of Kings, the first work created for San Francisco Ballet by Justin Peck, takes its name from part of its score, The BQE by Suan Stevens. Like the music, the ballet is big, cinematic, energetic, and joyful. That might seem surprising to anyone who thinks of the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) as a symbol of urban blight. But as Peck says, for Suan the BQE "inspired great composition. Sometimes what's not necessarily the most obviously beautiful thing will inspire something beautiful." Twenty-nine-year-old Peck, a soloist and, since 2014, resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, has choreographed more than 30 ballets. When SF Ballet Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson saw Peck's work, he immediately thought it "was not the average or the ordinary. There was a major talent there." Peck's interest in choreography arose early. "When I first came to SAB [the School of American Ballet in New York City] I didn't know a lot about ballet as an art form," he says. "It wasn't until I was exposed to the works by [George] Balanchine, [Jerome] Robbins, and some new choreographers too that I saw how movement and music could interrelate and that there can be something just in that relationship." Athleticism is a quality that appealed to Peck as a dance student, and it's a predominant quality in his choreography. In the Countenance of Kings has breath and suspension, complexity and contrast: stillness and speed, quick changes of direction. Peck describes his aesthetic as not only athletic but also "a musically sensitive one, and a bright, punctuated way of moving. All the while still using a classical vocabulary when I can." In this ballet, everything he does comes from the music. "Suan wrote such a huge piece of music, with so much energy and speed and athleticism and changes in rhythm that it would be impossible not to create something similar in scale. I'm riding the wave of the music." The score, part of a mixed-media project that premiered as an original film with live orchestra accompaniment, has been shortened and re-orchestrated to fit the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. It's "very multilayered," says Music Director and Principal Conductor Martin West. "I find it almost a throwback to the '60s psychedelic stuff — lots of things going on all at once; you don't quite know what's next. It's like the BQE, I suppose, coming from all directions." For this ballet, Peck visualized a protagonist, and that idea led him to name the rest of the cast. (The corps de ballet, for example, is "The School of Thought.") He says he was working conceptually with "how we perceive the world around us. It's not a narrative, but it's like a semi- story." Motifs of awakening and seeing infiltrate the ballet, and relationships are evident everywhere — these people know one another, and they play, tease, tend, challenge, and run. The dancers seem to explore a new world, and in setting them to this task Peck makes great use of the stage: movements bursting with opposing energy, suspension, and expansiveness; freeze-frame "Kodak moments;" and languid movements he calls "gooey." And that athleticism he loves? It colors much of the ballet. "Take it up a notch," he calls to one dancer in rehearsal. "Like your limbs are going to separate from your body." Yet beneath this contemporary, jazzy, exuberant dancing, ballet's classical foundation is there, and Peck calls for it over and over. "We want to start from a classical position," he tells the dancers, "then slowly decompose." The result, says Tomasson, is that Peck "captured the energy this company has. He did beautiful things for us." IN THE COUNTENANCE OF KINGS 2017 SEASON GUIDE SAN FRANCISCO BALLET 55

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