How Choreographer Peter Walker Crafted a Score for His New York City Ballet World Premiere

Classic Arts Features   How Choreographer Peter Walker Crafted a Score for His New York City Ballet World Premiere
Walker worked with Oliver Davis to create the music for his dance odyssey debuting this month at Lincoln Center.
Peter Walker with Anthony Huxley and Kristen Segin
Peter Walker with Anthony Huxley and Kristen Segin Erin Baiano

Following his 2016 ballet ten in seven, Peter Walker created a new ballet for New York City Ballet’s annual New Combinations Evening that premiered February 1. Walker, a dancer with NYCB since 2012, has participated in two sessions of the New York Choreographic Institute, and has also made works for the School of American Ballet. For his world premiere for 12 dancers, Walker has chosen a selection of music by British composer Oliver Davis. The new ballet dance odyssey will also be performed February 3, 8, 9, and 11.

How did you choose your music?
Walker: The music is from two of Oliver’s albums, Flight and Dance—which wasn’t commissioned for dancing, just inspired by movement and dance. It’s so good—I feel this immense pressure and responsibility to do it justice. It was tough to select movements and determine the order because I didn’t entirely feel like it’s mine to manipulate. So it was really helpful to talk to Oliver, who gave me some background on writing the album—what a particular piece was about, how he wrote it, even how it changed during the process.

What are some of the things you have to think about when crafting a score for dance?
You need to create an arc and consider things like key change and the emotion behind each piece. There’s a very logistical thing, too, about the tempo of dance. For example, putting two fast movements back to back is really hard—they need to be different enough yet still compelling, and you’re throwing a lot of dancing at the audience in a short amount of time and the steps have to read.

This is your second commission from NYCB. Is there anything you’re doing differently this time around?
This is the first time I’ve tried to do something more classical—when I say classical, we’re not talking white tights and tutus, but the structure is definitely more hierarchical. I still really like the idea of featuring each of my dancers and highlighting their personal strengths, the way that each person had the lead in different sections of ten in seven. But I wanted to make a ballet that was less episodic and more cohesive. It was a conscious decision to make something more in the tradition of this house, something that could exist in mixed repertory alongside all of these great works that we perform. It’s a big personal challenge and it’s freaking me out a little bit!

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