Tiler Peck Turns It Out and Turns It Up in Santa Barbara

Famed Ballerina Takes the Leap and Adds Director Title to Her Dance Card with West Coast Premiere Production

Tiler Peck Turns It Out and
Turns It Up in Santa Barbara

Famed Ballerina Takes the Leap
and Adds Director Title to Her Dance Card
with West Coast Premiere Production

By Leslie Dinaberg | September 14, 2023

Tiler Peck from ‘The Barre Project‘ by world-renowned choreographer Wiliam Forsythe | Credit: Courtesy

Read more of the Fall Arts & Lectures preview here.

It was none other than Mikhail Baryshnikov himself who helped Tiler Peck solidify her vision for her critically acclaimed show, Turn It Out with Tiler Peck & Friends, which makes its way to Santa Barbara on October 25 for its West Coast premiere. 

The formidable choreographer and award-winning principal dancer with New York City Ballet makes her directorial debut with Turn It Out, an innovative blend of dance styles and pieces that have special meaning to her. “Everybody that’s in the show is pretty much my favorite dancer,” says Peck, clearly excited to share the work. “Every one of them, when I watch them, I’m truly moved by them. I love them as dancers.”

Among the dancers we’ll see on the Granada stage are tap superstar and founder of Dorrance Dance, Michelle Dorrance (who thrilled local audiences in 2019); So You Think You Can Dance Season 14 winner, Lex Ishimoto (about whom Peck gushes, “He basically can hold it down and bring it with Michelle Dorrance, which is insane — that is pretty amazing”); and Jillian Meyers, whose work includes La La Land, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, and Babylon. Peck also brings in her fellow New York City Ballet dancers India Bradley, Chun Wai Chan, Jovani Furlan, Christopher Grant, Roman Mejia, Mira Nadon, and Quinn Starner, as well as American Ballet Theatre’s Brooklyn Mack and Dorrance Dance company member Byron Tittle.

“I just thought how cool it would be to be able to showcase these dancers and everything that they can do,” says Peck. But it was Baryshnikov who convinced her that she needed to include not just a group of her favorite choreographers in the show — Meyers, Dorrance, Alonzo King, and William Forsythe — but also her own choreography to pull the whole piece together. 

“I was talking to him about these pieces, about this evening that I was thinking about putting together, and he said, ‘Well, you have to have some of your choreography; don’t you choreograph?’ ” She laughs at the memory. “I was like, ‘Oh, I do. But I would just never do that. … I just wouldn’t want to put myself on a program with Forsythe, Alonso, and then Michelle Dorrance and Jillian Meyers!’ ” 

Tiler Peck shows off the jazz in her ballerina bones, from Time Spell. | Credit: Christopher Duggan

But Baryshnikov convinced her to go for it, saying, “That’s what helps make the throughline, because you can’t be in every piece. This is your evening. So how amazing to have something that might be choreographed.”

Peck says, “I just wanted to basically surround myself with my favorite dancers and artists to watch who inspire me, who I knew would help me grow and make me better. I mean, at this point in my career, that’s all I want to do. I want to be challenged.”

It also helps that the cast has loads of fun together, she shares. “I want to be dancing with people that I love, both as human beings and as dancers, artists, and I am so excited for California to see the show, but also this piece in particular, because it’s pretty incredible.” 

While it might seem like a stretch for a ballerina to work in such wide range of dance disciplines, Peck reminds me that she grew up in her mother’s dance studio (Bakersfield Dance Company, formerly known as Princess Studio) where “I trained classically, but that was secondary to my jazz, my hip-hop; my mom had every style, and ballet was definitely my least favorite. But she was so smart to make me stick with it so that my technique would be strong no matter what kind of dancer or dance form I wanted to go into. And it wasn’t until I went to SAB [School of American Ballet] at 14 that I really fell in love with ballet.”

She continues, “So in this show, I feel like I get to be the most authentic version of myself because I get to do all the forms of dancing that I love and also be wearing pointe shoes and be a ballerina. It feels really comfortable.”

The name of the show, Turn It Out with Tiler Peck, is an outgrowth of her pandemic project gone viral. Encouraged by her sister Myka Peck — who was the principal of Garces Memorial High School in Bakersfield at the time — to do an online dance class for students, Tiler decided to try Instagram Live out at the same time, thinking, “I bet a lot of kids are at home that maybe don’t have a dance studio. … Right away, the number was like 15,000 people or something taking class. I didn’t know what that number was.”

#TurnItOutWithTiler, her IG Live dance classes, quickly grew even more, attracting stars such as Jennifer Garner, Kelly Ripa, and Sarah Jessica Parker, and eventually a guest list that included dance celebrities like Debbie Allen and Leslie Odom Jr. 

“I guess a lot of people actually really needed this. That’s what got me through COVID and kept me motivated and wanting to do things was knowing how many people I was getting to dance with every day,” says Peck. “I wasn’t in the room with them, but I knew I had all these people counting on me. And it held me accountable and got me to dance to give me something to look forward to every day.” 

Now Santa Barbara has its very own in-person Turn It Out with Tiler Peck & Friends performance to look forward to, presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures on October 25 at the Granada. 

See artsandlectures.ucsb.edu for tickets and more information.

From Time Spell, Tiler Peck’s creation with tap dancer extraordinaire Michelle Dorrance | Credit: Christopher Duggan


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