New York; guest writer;Wayne Northcross on “The Most Incredible Thing’ at New York City Ballet
by Venetia Kapernekas
February 2, 2016, David H. Koch Theater
Original Cast: Taylor Stanley, Sterling Hyltin, Amar Ramasar Ask la Cour, Russell Janzen, Tiler Peck ; Length: 45 Min
Costumes by : Marcel Dzama, supervised by Marc Happel
Set by: Marcel Dzama
Lighting by: Brandon Stirling Baker
Justin Peck’s “The Most Incredible Thing “premiered on February 2, 2016, at NYCB’s annual New Combinations Evening. Peck and composer Bryce Dessner (The National) had invited visual artist Marcel Dzama to collaborate with them on a new work for New York City Ballet; Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Most Incredible Thing”is a lesser-known fairytale by the Danish author published in 1870.
I had the honour to be invited by my dear friend and wonderful writer Wayne Northcross to enjoy this fabulous performance. Wayne Northcross had been commissioned to write for the New York Observer, but few days ago he delivered to me a splendid text to be hosted at VKblog.
“I have been following visual artist Marcel Drama and ballet choreographer Justin Peck for months leading up to premiere of the New York City Ballet’s The Most Incredible Thing, their collaborative ballet based on the 1870 story by Hans Christian Andersen. I hadn’t been hanging outside the David Koch Theater trying to sneak a peek backstage at the dancers, sets and costumes I’ve heard so much about. No. I have been following Peck and Dzama on Instagram, marveling at how much I could preview of Dzama’s highly detailed and beautiful sketches for the costumes and sets as well as at Peck’s posts of dancers en pointe, executing jetes or arabesques. My favorite image is one Peck posted a few weeks ago of him and Dzama, smiling and sitting cross-legged on stage in front of Dzama’s painted backdrop of a double-headed firebird. This image got me thinking about how collaboration among artists from various disciplines can either ignite or spark a mutually creative enterprise or how competing and highly unique abilities can make partnering go up in flames. Then I attended a dress rehearsal after which I stopped looking so much at Instagram. Seeing the ballet in person or gleaning aspects of it on my phone, two things became quite clear: the production is stunningly beautiful and fully realized, full of visual and technical complexities; Drama and Peck have arrived at a seamless, mutually beneficial collaborative style.
Sterling Hyltin and Taylor Stanley in Justin Peck’s “The Most Incredible Thing” Photo credit @ Barbara Anastacio resource: NYC Ballet Photo blog
Tiler Peck in Justin Peck’s “The Most Incredible Thing” Photo credit @Barbara Anastacio, resource: NYCBalletPhotoblog
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of a king who declares that whoever in his kingdom creates the most incredible thing in the world will be awarded the hand of the princess and half the kingdom could be seen as story ballet primer. All the dramatic elements are here. Fantastically costumed characters, a battle between the forces of good and evil, magic, and frustrated romance. In Peck’s adaptation the main characters have been tweaked a little but still include The Creator of the most incredible thing, a large magical clock, The Princess, The King, and The Destroyer of said clock. The cast grows to accommodate 45 dancers and 11 children who make up the allegorical and symbolic figures and who emerge from the clock: Three Kings, Adam & Eve, The Cuckoo Bird, Four Seasons, Five Senses, Nine Muses. A lot of bodies for Peck to choreograph—at one point all the dancers are on stage at the same time. For Dzama this requires a lot of patterned tights, feathers, headdresses, masks, swords, and spears. 37 costumes in all. Not as easy as it looks, but a seamless collaboration between the two makes it seem so.
“The Most Incredible Thing”; costumes, photo@ Erian Baiano
Three O’Clock: The Three Kings, dancers Gonzalo Garcia, Jared Angle, Daniel Applebaum. Photo @Erin Baiano
You are meant to see the creation and destruction of this most wonderful thing by the Destroyer in the ballet as an allusion to the artist’s struggle to create and express his or her artistic genius in a fickle and easily distracted world. You could also push the story’s symbolism further to include the push-pull dynamic of collaboration that Peck and Dzama had to go through to create and destroy a little piece of their own unique vision, sublimating autonomy in service of the In a collaboration consensus and integrity are key goals. Dzama developed the costumes over time, downscaling his initial ideas to fit Peck’s choreography. For his part Peck had to give more room to accommodate Dzama’s version, which for him was a new way of working. (Wayne Northcross)