Making "The Most Incredible Thing": New York City Ballet's Gretchen Smith Talks About Justin Peck's First Narrative Ballet

Gretchen Smith in rehearsals for The Most Incredible Thing (Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet)

New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck is never not busy: This year alone, he's created works for San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet and NYCB. But Peck's latest ballet for his home company, The Most Incredible Thing, is his biggest production yet. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, it features 50 dancers; a score by Bryce Dessner, of the band The National; and costumes and sets by popular artist Marcel Dzama. Dance Spirit caught up with NYCB corps de ballet member Gretchen Smith, a Most Incredible Thing cast member, to get the scoop on Peck's new work. —Olivia Manno


Dance Spirit: What have rehearsals been like?

Gretchen Smith: I'm constantly in awe of Justin and his brain. He rarely hits a wall with the choreo; he's always got more ideas. He's also open to mistakes, and will use our mess-ups if he likes them. It makes for an encouraging atmosphere.

DS: You've worked with Peck on many of his ballets. What are some of your favorite "Peck-isms" in The Most Incredible Thing?

GS: There are so many! His ballets are always high-energy and expansive, and his footwork is incredibly quick—it requires mad coordination. There are a lot of beautiful nods to Balanchine, like wide échappés and nuanced movements of the wrists.

DS: Speaking of Balanchine, we know from Peck's Instagram account that The Most Incredible Thing includes some riffing on Balanchine's Apollo.

GS: I can't reveal a lot, but mythology is definitely a huge part of the ballet's structure. I'm one of the piece's nine "muses," and Justin made it very clear that our divertissement was an ode to Apollo and its muses.

DS: Peck is known for his contemporary ballets, but The Most Incredible Thing is based on a fairy tale that's nearly 150 years old. Does it represent a "modern" story ballet?

GS: Well, things that might be more spelled-out in a traditional story ballet are less so in this work. For our roles as the "muses," for example, Justin just wants us to represent nine powerful women. And the dancing feels modern in that it requires a lot of athleticism.

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