Superstar Tiler Peck Shines as Our Sugar Plum Fairy

Huge news for dance fans: the one and only Tiler Peck bourrés into Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker this holiday season with partner Tyler Angle as her Cavalier.

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Tiler Peck in George Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas De Deux. (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

One of the many benefits of having a retired New York City Ballet principal dancer as the artistic director of our pre-professional ballet company is the talent he lands for our annual Nutcracker. Last year, Philip Neal treated us to Sara Mearns and Patricia Delgado alternately performing the role of Sugar Plum Fairy. This holiday season, he offers the gift of a performance by Tiler Peck, dancer extraordinaire, who is arguably at the height of her phenomenal career. Peck started dancing at two years old in her mother’s California studio. Under private tutelage of former Bolshoi and NYCB dancers between the ages of 7-12, Peck’s rigorous classical training led to a spot in the School of American Ballet, the official school of NYCB. She started an apprenticeship with NYCB in 2004, earning promotions within the company until she attained the highest rank of principal dancer in 2009.

Caught in the Act caught up with Tiler via email to talk about dance and her upcoming performance in the role of Sugar Plum Fairy for Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker, Dec. 21-23.

Caught in the Act: Tell us a little bit about how long you’ve known Philip Neal and what it was like working together at NYCB. Was there any sort of “defining moment” where you knew you and Philip would always stay connected professionally?

Tiler Peck: Philip was a principal dancer when I joined the company 14 years ago at the age of 15. He was always extremely professional, and I was aware that many of the men looked up to him as a role model. He made it a point to make the younger dancers feel welcome and was always kind to me. I remember feeling very honored to be picked to dance Who Cares? in his retirement, not with him, but as a tribute to him – to showcase the wide range and variety of roles he danced during his wonderful career with NYCB.

CITA: You’re a superstar in the dance world, with Broadway credits (On the Town, The Music Man) and the Kennedy Center’s show Little Dancer, plus a slew of viral videos including the classical ballet/hip hop mashup you did with Lil Buck and Prime Tyme at Vail International Dance Festival. Because of your versatility and visibility, you’re a real role model to a lot of young dancers who get to see a principal ballerina pretty much do what she wants versus stay in the classical rep. What are you learning along your career path that you’d love to share about a dance career with young dancers who are watching you?

TP: I have learned that I owe so much to the versatility of my training. I grew up in Bakersfield, Calif. taking jazz, lyrical, contemporary, tap, hip hop, among others and I think every style has influenced and helped me become the ballerina I am today. I think it is important to be well rounded as a dancer because it opens many more doors and opportunities. So, I would tell younger dancers to always stay curious and have a willingness to want to learn multiple styles as I think it only helps one grow as an artist.

CITA: You also have film credits – two standouts being your role as “Beth Farmer” in the Sparkle Motion dance sequence in cult classic Donnie Darko and in the peerless 2010 dance film NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ. Do you have a preference between dancing for film or live performance? In what ways do you have to alter your performance for film, and how to you keep performing “for the first time” take after take after take? Any upcoming film performances we can anticipate?

TP: I don’t think there is anything more thrilling than watching or performing live; there is something so exhilarating in live performance that just cannot be matched! Even if I watch a performance from the previous evening on film the next day, it never has the same feeling that it did when I was dancing it. There is definitely something that gets lost when translating live performance to film. Regarding film projects, my documentary was just released in July on Hulu so you should definitely go check out Ballet Now produced by Elisabeth Moss.

CITA: Sugar Plum Fairy is such a traditional, iconic role. How do you make her “yours,” or do you feel like this is a role that makes you “hers”? Will you tell us about the first time you ever performed the role – how old were you, when was it, and how did you feel about stepping into the role the first time professionally?

TP: The Nutcracker has a special place in my heart because it was the first thing I saw the New York City Ballet perform and what made me want to be a ballerina with NYCB. My parents took me to see The Nutcracker at NYCB when I was 11 years old in New York performing in The Music Man on Broadway. I turned to my father and said “Daddy, I am going to dance on that stage someday!” So, to be able to dance a role now that made me want to be a ballerina feels very special. Personally, the holidays are my favorite time of the year, and I just love sharing the stage with children and spreading a little Christmas magic to everyone who sees the ballet.

CITA: We are truly so excited to have you here for our Nutcracker this year. What are you most looking forward to about your trip to Tampa and your work with Philip’s NGB dancers?

TP: I am really looking forward to being reunited with Philip and getting to share the stage with his students. I know that Philip was a huge mentor to my partner Tyler Angle, and Tyler is my favorite person to dance with (in fact, we are known as Tsquared or TNT) so it’s going to one big love fest in Tampa! We cannot wait!