When I was maybe 10, a museum near my hometown exhibited a bronze cast of Edgar Degas' Little Dancer Aged Fourteen sculpture. I went to visit her, and quickly discovered that my first impulse—to imitate her iconic fourth-position pose—was shared by dozens of other baby ballerinas. There was a whole crowd of us gathered around the statue, hanging out in fourth, snapping photos. It was almost instinctual.
Susan Stroman's brand-new musical, Little Dancer, which tells the story of the girl who inspired the statue, opens on Saturday at the Kennedy Center. In tribute, the original Little Dancer sculpture is currently on exhibit at D.C.'s National Gallery of Art. And last week, the cast of the musical—which includes New York City Ballet star Tiler Peck and our friends Juliet Doherty and Sophia Anne Caruso—went to pay their respects to Degas' masterpiece.
Naturally, they all immediately assumed fourth position. Looks like that instinct never dies.
(All photos by Margot Schulman)
The musical's cast. Peck is adorable in her pink tutu—but did your eye go right to Juliet (third from right) and her gorgeous turnout, like mine did?
The whole company. So many Little Dancer doppelgängers!
The musical's stars and creative team (from left): Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens, Susan Stroman, Tiler Peck and Boyd Gaines. Even non-dancers end up hitting some version of fourth position!
Merde (or in musical theater terms, break a leg) to the Little Dancer cast! For tickets and more info about the show, click here. Can't make it to D.C.? You can still get an insider's look at the show, via our interview with Peck about what happens when statues come to life.
In our October issue, we talked to New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck about her musical theater turn in the brand-new show Little Dancer. Inspired by Degas' famous sculpture and directed and choreographed by Broadway guru Susan Stroman, the musical is set to open at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center later this month.
Little Dancer was custom-tailored to Peck, and naturally she'll be bringing all her ballerina amazingness to the part—including her experiences dancing famous ballets. "It's just like doing Romeo and Juliet," she said to us of playing the young Paris Opéra Ballet student Marie von Goethem, who inspired Degas' Little Dancer Aged 14 sculpture. "No one who plays Juliet is actually her age. The key is your mannerisms and the way you hold yourself." Given that Peck also has serious musical theater cred—she made her Broadway debut at age 11 (!) in Stroman's production of The Music Man—we're guessing she'll be pretty darn convincing.
Also, she kind of looks just like the statue! Eerie.
(Both photos courtesy The Kennedy Center. Left: Matthew Karas; right: Edgar Degas, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878–1881), yellow wax, hair, ribbon, linen bodice, satin shoes, muslin tutu, wood base, National Gallery of Art, Washington, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon)
Wondering what all of that dance-drama goodness will actually look like? This Sunday night, the Guggenheim Museum will be offering a sneak peek when its Works & Process series goes inside Little Dancer. The event will include a bunch of excerpts from the show (Peck will be dancing, of course!) and a discussion with Stroman, Lynn Ahrens (who wrote the musical's book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (the composer). And the whole thing will be live-streamed at guggenheim.org/live, starting at 7:30 pm EST.
Little Dancer in your living room—not a bad way to end the weekend, amirite? While you're waiting for Sunday night to roll around, take a look at this behind-the-scenes video from Peck's official Little Dancer photo shoot:
You know the sculpture: A young girl in a tutu stands in an open fourth position, gazing up in awe as if she’s watching a prima ballerina leap before her. But you probably don’t know the story behind the sculpture—the story of ballet student Marie von Goethem, who, at age 14, became the muse of renowned artist Edgar Degas. This month, Marie’s tale will come to life onstage at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, in Little Dancer, a brand-new musical directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. None other than New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck will star as Marie. Peck is no stranger to the world of musical theater: She first played Gracie Shinn in Stroman’s revival of The Music Man on Broadway at just 11 years old. Dance Spirit caught up with Peck to find out more about Little Dancer.
(Photo by Matthew Karas, Courtesy The Kennedy Center)
Dance Spirit: How does working on this show compare to your experience when you were younger?
Tiler Peck: The Music Man was such a surprise for me. I don’t think I really grasped what Broadway meant. Now, being in Little Dancer means so much more. Not only am I working with Susan Stroman again, but Rebecca Luker, who was also in Music Man, is playing Marie’s older self. It’s like I’ve come full circle.
DS: What’s challenging about playing a young girl?
TP: Well, it’s just like doing Romeo and Juliet. No one who plays Juliet is actually her age. The key is your mannerisms and the way you hold yourself. I’ve also been looking at tons of Degas’ works, and I’ve been reading as many books as possible to find out about Marie’s life. She was very witty!
DS: Why should people see the show?
TP: For dancers, the show is easy to relate to because you see Marie face so many of the challenges that both young dancers and professionals go through today. And Broadway people will love the music. It’s so beautiful; you just have to dance to it.
DS: What’s the best part about being in Little Dancer?
TP: Marie is a starring role, and the whole show revolves around her. Getting to create the part—being the first person ever to play it—has been so special.
A crumpled, torn magazine photo of a ballerina sparked a 4-year-old orphan’s dream of becoming a professional dancer. That orphan was Michaela DePrince, now a rising talent at Dutch National Ballet. (You may know her from the 2011 documentary First Position.) DePrince’s new memoir, Taking Flight, recounts her incredible journey from war-torn Sierra Leone to the ballet world. There are moments that will leave you in tears—yet her inspiring story (co-written with her adoptive mother, Elaine DePrince) is one you’ll never forget. —Sophie Moyer
Dance Spirit spoke with DePrince about her writing process.
(Courtesy Random House Children's Books)
The events you describe early in the book are unfathomable. What was writing about them like for you?
I wrote everything in small snippets—thoughts, memories, feelings.
They were like bits of clay that I handed to my mother, who organized them and turned them into a beautiful piece of art. In a way, it was therapeutic—I was able to get all of the happenings out of my head and onto paper. But even more therapeutic was reading the final product. Although it all came from my memory, it still moved me to tears.
Why did you write Taking Flight?
I’m especially interested in reaching kids who are feeling hopeless because their life circumstances aren’t ideal. I want to inspire them to grab onto a dream and find ways to make it come true.
Have you met the woman who inspired your own dream—Magali Messac, the former Pennsylvania Ballet dancer on the Dance Magazine cover you found in Sierra Leone?
I’ve communicated with her online, but I haven’t actually met her in person. We live so far away from each other—she’s in Washington State and I’m in the Netherlands! Oddly, though, without having met her, I still feel like she’s not real—just the ballerina in the picture.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Right now, I’m with the Dutch National Ballet, and love everything about it. I’d like to stay here as long as possible, and I hope I’ll rise through the ranks. I’d also like to start a free school for the arts in Sierra Leone. I feel deeply about the children there who lack opportunities—I want to share my good fortune with them.
Megan Fairchild in ballet mode in Robbins' Dances at a Gathering (photo by Paul Kolnik)
We love, love, love ballet dancers who are decidedly not bunheads. There's nothing cooler than a world-class ballet professional who's excited to take on other dance styles—or other sides of the dance world entirely.
Yesterday, it was announced that beautiful New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild will make her Broadway debut this fall in the revival of On the Town, playing Ivy Smith. You know she's going to be great: Not only is she one of NYCB's most charismatic actresses, but On the Town is also a sort of expanded version of the Jerome Robbins ballet Fancy Free, and as a NYCBer, she's well-versed in the Robbins style.
Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Robbins' Fancy Free—a.k.a. the ballet on which the musical On the Town, which Robert's sister Megan is about to star in, is based. It's like an endless loop of too-good-to-be-trueness! (photo Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image)
What makes this news even more exciting? Megan's brother Robert, also an NYCB principal, is about to take on Broadway, too. He'll star as Jerry Mulligan—the Gene Kelly role—in Christopher Wheeldon's stage production of An American in Paris, which is set to premiere in Paris (of course) this fall before coming to Broadway next spring.
But wait! There's even more cuteness/awesomeness. Robert's fiancée, fellow NYCB principal Tiler Peck (they're getting married this weekend!) is also about to star in a major musical: Susan Stroman's Little Dancer, based on the Paris Opéra Ballet student who posed for Degas' famous sculpture. The new show premieres at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., this October.
Now that's what we call a Renaissance family. Merde/break a leg, all of you!
It's been a big news week for our favorite New York City Ballet couple, principals Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck!
First, it was announced that Peck will star in Susan Stroman's new musical, Little Dancer, next fall at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center. Last year we heard that she was workshopping the title role, but we didn't even dare to hope that she'd take it on in the finished production—girl's got a pretty packed schedule with NYCB, after all—so we were extra excited when this press release landed in our inboxes. Peck, by the way, is a musical theater veteran: At 11 she appeared on Broadway in The Music Man, and a few months ago she performed in the New York Philharmonic's concert performance of Carousel—as did Mr. Fairchild.
OK, that's part one. Part two: The October issue of Vanity Fair, out today, features a dual profile of Peck and Fairchild. Written by former NYCB principal and current Vail International Dance Festival director Damian Woetzel, it describes the power couple as "the dancers of today" who "hav[e] no boundaries." Right on. Oh, and the photographs are by super-famous photog Bruce Weber, naturally. Take a look:
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The Degas sculpture that inspired it all.
If you're an eagle-eyed reader of DS (and why wouldn't you be?), you probably noticed an interesting little aside in our April "You Should Know" story about 14-year-old prima-in-the-making Madeleine Gardella.
The pint-sized ballerina, we learned, recently participated in the workshop for a new musical, Little Dancer, directed and choreographed by Broadway legend Susan Stroman. And Madeleine's co-star in the workshop was none other than New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck. Intriguing, no?
Well, now it's official: Little Dancer, which was inspired by Edgar Degas' world-famous "Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen" sculpture, is coming to D.C.'s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in October 2014. The show will "weave real history and fiction" to tell the story of Marie van Goethem, the young student who inspired Degas' piece.
No casting for the show has been announced yet, but the use of talented ballerinas in the workshop wasn't a fluke: Apparently the lead roles are built for serious dancers. And let's just say no one at DS would be upset if Madeleine and Peck reprised their roles. Talk about a dream team!