Justin Peck is no stranger to high-profile collaborations — the resident choreographer of New York City Ballet has already worked with Sufjan Stevens, Shepard Fairey, Mary Katrantzou, and Opening Ceremony, among others — but his newest work for his home company, The Most Incredible Thing, looks to be on another artistic level entirely.
For his first major narrative ballet, the 28-year-old Peck worked closely with composer Bryce Dessner and the ultra-imaginative artist Marcel Dzama, who created both costumes and scenery. “For me, it dates back to some of the historic productions in our repertoire — Balanchine’s Orpheus has Noguchi designs; for Firebird, Chagall did all the sets and costumes,” Peck says. “Bryce and I went to see Marcel’s show at David Zwirner in September of last year, and we just really loved his whole aesthetic. It had this narrative feel and otherworldly look and a very specific color palette. And he incorporates a lot of dancers into his work.”
The ballet is based on a dark Hans Christian Andersen story about a princess bound to marry whoever can create “the most incredible thing.” That turns out to be a monumental clock from which numerous characters emerge, until an evil Destroyer tries to break it. “I liked the message of how art can overcome tyranny and destruction,” Dzama says. Peck guided him in the development process. “He knew I kind of like to put a heavy costume and masks on characters,” Dzama says with a laugh. “I wanted certain moments of pageantry to display his costumes,” Peck says, “and then in other sections to hold back to emphasize the choreography.”
Dzama was highly influenced by “images of the future from the past — like in Metropolis or Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. The costumes feel timeless. They could have been made in the past, but they could have been made in the future as well.” The ballet uses a mind-boggling 56-person cast, including 11 School of American Ballet children whose costumes especially excite Dzama. “It’s like this strange silver space dress with polka dots, and when they wear it it’s like they become even smaller and cuter.” Unlike with traditional ballet costumes, “We’re not trying to just show the silhouette of the body,” Peck says. “We’re trying to create a more theatrical experience. It’s been really fun to create a whole different world onstage.”
Take a look at a few of Dzama’s designs in the trailer for The Most Incredible Thing, which opens at New York City Ballet on February 2.