The curtain comes up, the music hits, the movement begins—! A creative vision brought to life. But what was the spark that ignited the fire? Opening Ceremony Co-Founder Humberto Leon & of New York City Ballet’s Resident Choreographer Justin Peck cross examine each other. In midst of creating their third collaboration, Justin and Humberto discuss the ballet’s details and inspirations, as the production’s final stages are in motion. Read the conversation below to hear how the two minds met to create The Times Are Racing, which debuted this past weekend under the roof of The David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.
JUSTIN PECK: I was just in a few fittings for your costumes. They’re looking awesome. It’s
such a distinct, present-day look.
HUMBERTO LEON: I know!
One of the dancers at the end of a fitting said, ‘Ok, I’m walking out the door wearing this, bye!’ He loved the outfit. It’s different from what we typically do at New York City Ballet.
I was super excited when you called me about this one. We had worked together before, but I knew this would be different. When you told me about the tennis shoes, it made so much sense. How did that idea start?
Well, women are usually in pointe shoes and men in ballet slippers. But there were a couple of ballets in our rep that I’ve danced in that Jerome Robbins choreographed, like West Side Story and Opus Jazz, that used sneakers. I always felt that it gave me a more expanded freedom to move and dance and not worry so much about line and precision. The focus is placed more on energy. And it opens up the choreographic potential for different influences, from breakdancing to street dancing to tap technique.
You talked originally about Fred Astaire meets street dance meets ballet. I tried to follow that idea: What in my mind was Fred Astaire? What in my mind was street? What in my mind was ballet? It was critical to create an equal balance between those elements. And at the core, of course, was ballet.
Right, that’s important. It’s not anti-ballet.
No! The outfits are very realistic, but the idea was to bring ballet into outfits that could be meaningful in another context. I looked at this in terms of creating costumes that could be clothing but felt intentional on stage.
I think dance and ballet as art forms are about cross-pollination. What’s nice about the format is there are different artists from different mediums who come together and work on one collective experience. I feel lucky in a sense that I have this outlet where I can bring in others. When I work with an artist or a designer or a composer, there’s a really substantial infatuation with their work for a period of time.
That’s something I feel you and I kind of vibed off of early on. That’s part of my world. I seek out culture outside fashion—and fashion lends itself to culture beautifully.
Definitely. I knew from working with you last time that you weren’t going to just put a dress on a dancer. You were very involved in realizing a vision. And the fact that this performance is a placeholder for Opening Ceremony’s fashion show—that must be different from how people usually experience these events? I mean you tell me! I don’t go to that many fashion shows.
Yeah! If anything, I see what we’re doing as inviting people to a night at the ballet and there happens to be clothing. I try to integrate a lot of what we do into broader culture, not for the sake of being different, but because we’re inspired by things.
That’s a similar philosophy for me, too.