The Joyce Theatre in Chelsea was ablaze with the warmth of excited dancers and dance patrons even though the high in Manhattan last Monday night was only a miserable 12 degrees. Fans, philanthropists, and students were on hand to enjoy New York City Dance Alliance Foundation’s annual benefit concert— this year called Destiny Rising— which not only raised additional funds but also celebrated the $2.5 million in scholarship money the education and convention organization has given out since 2010.
New York City Ballet principal dancer and star of the hit Hulu dance documentary Ballet Now, Tiler Peck was a guest star of the evening’s concert. Ms. Peck, a former student of Joe Lanteri— the founder and executive director of both NYCDA and its subsequent philanthropic foundation— is still quite fond of her longtime friend.
“I just think that Joe is so amazing,” Tiler Peck told Dance Network ahead of the evening’s performance. “He’s really made it his call, to kind of have this mission of finding the next generation of dancers— and what he does by handing out all these scholarships so that [these dancers] can go to secondary [training programs] and college is something tremendous.”
Dance Network also spoke with Ms. Peck about the success of her documentary film Ballet Now, which followed her in the week leading up to the presentation of the 2017 major dance concert series in Los Angeles of the same name. In the documentary, Ms. Peck is charged with the curation and execution of the festival, which consisted of 24 dancers performing in 16 different dances— seven of which she performed in herself.
“As a dancer, I’m used to being apart of amazing programs that are put together by an artistic director,” Peck said. “And, this was the first time where I was in charge of everything — overseeing everything.”
Many viewers have since commented that, within the film, they began to see a new creative side of Ms. Peck.
“I think my personality still came out the way that I am— I was always still laughing even though I wanted to cry inside— because there were so many things and so many questions being pulled my way,” Peck said. “I think, I just found this other side of myself, and I think that’s maybe why it was interesting for viewers— because you were seeing it in real-time. It was something that I didn’t know I had inside of myself.”
Ms. Peck, a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, has been remarkably busy with performances and rehearsals over at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theatre. On top of her performances as both 'Dew Drop' and 'The Sugar Plum Fairy' in this past season’s The Nutcracker, the next few weeks hold an unthinkable amount of performance opportunity for the star dancer. By the middle of February, she’ll have performed in re-stagings of both Balanchine’s Apollo and Serenade, William Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman, as well as the upcoming run of The Sleeping Beauty and the premiere of a brand new work by NYCB resident choreographer, TONY® winner, Justin Peck.
“I haven’t been sleeping very well,” Peck laughed. “I think it’s because I know this season is going be a fairly tough one for me— I don’t know— I just like it, I just love to dance."
Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia dancing at NYCDAF's Destiny Rising. Photo credit: NYCDAF
Dance Network also asked Ms. Peck about the changes and challenges that have taken a forefront at New York City Ballet over the last year. Even amid the scandals, accusations, and dismissals, Peck explained that the core group of dancers at City Ballet have managed to keep the Institution progressing forward.
“From my point of view... there’s been a lot of changes happening, but for those of us that are still there, we're still dancing at the same levels that we always were, and that doesn’t depend on what artistic director is there,” Peck said. “We’re still going out and giving a 110% every single night, so yeah, as a principal dancer, you sort of feel the weight of carrying along the company, and giving them a little boost of moral when we’re all in a period of flux, but, I think, we’ve kind of been under the attitude of ‘we’re just going to let our dancing speak’ and go out there kill it.”
Even with her insanely packed schedule, Ms. Peck still somehow finds the time to celebrate dance education and the next generation of dancers.
“For me as a dancer, scholarships really helped me in my career, so I really know what it means to get something like that,” Peck said. “For Joe to take the time to really find those dancers and provide those scholarships is something tremendous, and for me to be a part of an evening— especially because I come from being a jazz baby, and Joe’s known me since I was, I don’t know, like seven years old— whenever he asks if I will be apart of any of his events, I always say yes.”
It was announced this past Tuesday that Peck will join TONY® award-winning director and choreographer Susan Stroman once again for a new version of the musical Little Dancer— now titled, Marie— at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre in March.
Joe Lanteri, the man behind the organization and foundation at Dance Alliance— who’s also now in charge of Manhattan’s exclusive ‘Steps On Broadway’— is in the midst of his jam-packed convention season. Even in between stops on the 24 city tour that NYCDA visits each winter and early spring, Mr. Lanteri’s attendance at Destiny Rising is something he wouldn’t miss— especially, because of his close ties with Ms. Peck.
“It's very humbling,” Lanteri said of his Foundation’s event. “And, Tiler, was one of our kids!”
“She was one of the most ferocious young dancers— at the age of twelve— that I’ve ever met… if you would ever have asked me if she’d be a prima ballerina at New York City Ballet, I would have said you were crazy— because she was an incredible commercial dancer,” Lanteri smiled, thinking back to Peck’s days as a young dancer. “But, because she’s Tiler Peck, with that focus, and that drive, and that tenacity— all as sweet as she can be— she made it happen.”
As far as the future for the organization and his career, Lanteri says he just wants to help kids keep learning and keep dancing.
“It’s such an incredible opportunity to be given that gift to make a difference, and that really ties into what we’re doing tonight,” Lanteri said. “So, I don’t know what that next step might be, I’m not looking for a next step, but, if there’s an opportunity that feels like I need to be involved because it’s going to help me help another young dancer, chances are I'm going to say yes.”
Lanteri’s New York City Dance Alliance is going into an anniversary season celebrating its 25th year, while the organization’s foundation, which has given away over $2.5 million in scholarship funding, came into existence in 2010.
For more on New York City Dance Alliance and Joe Lanteri, visit the website here. To follow up with the latest on Tiler Peck, follow her here on Instagram and Twitter.
Michael Mahany serves as the New York City Correspondent for Dance Network. He is also a professional actor, musician, dancer, and writer. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, or click here to find out more.