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David and Art - Seeing Art Through Art

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If we’re open to it, one art form can often help us understand another.

My daughter and I attended a dance performance earlier this month that was curated and choreographed by Tiler Peck, a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet. Ms. Peck was born in 1989 in Bakersfield California, where her mother owned a ballet studio. She began dancing there at age two. She started studying dance formally when she was 7. She made her Broadway debut, at age 11, playing Mayor Shinn’s daughter in The Music Man.

Ms. Peck enrolled at the ballet school affiliated with the New York City Ballet in 2002. Two years later she joined the company as an apprentice. From then, promotions followed quickly. She joined the company’s Corps de Ballet in February 2005, she became a soloist in December 2006, and was named a principal dancer in October 2009.

In the performance we saw, she had assembled a cast of extremely talented dancers and had choreographed three of the four routines herself. She said “I wanted to give people something they had never seen before” and at least in regard to one particular piece that combined tap and ballet in ways I had not imaged possible, she did just that. It was a spectacular dance. The woman sitting next to us said that she had attended the previous day’s performance but that that ballet and tap number was so good she had to come back just to see it again.

What struck me while watching the entire performance was how much physical control each of the dancers had over his or her body. Not only did this manifest itself as extreme gracefulness as they moved, but in their abilities to stop their motions abruptly and freeze and hold positions.

I wasn’t expecting it, but as I watched, I began thinking of classic sculpture, because in regard to dance, no other art form is more clearly evoked. It made me consider the relationship between art and motion and, more, art and time. Dance can be seen as an infinite series of sculptural motions brought to life—brought into time. By contrast, sculpture can be seen as moments of dance frozen in time.

What’s our takeaway from this? Well, what strikes me most, is that one form of art can help you appreciate another form.

I think in general terms we tend to segregate the arts from each other more than we should. We each have our favorites as well as ones we don’t particularly follow. It makes us think of them as sealed off from each other, as not being in a conversation with each other. As I sat there and watched this wonderful dance performance, I realized that that attitude kept me from appreciating the depth of art in any of its forms.