Festival favorites Tiler Peck and Robbie Fairchild return to Vail
There are times when a dancer makes an entrance and, at once, you are taken aback by the sheer beauty of the moment. Perhaps it’s the height of the leap, the graceful flourish of the hand, a simple tilt of the head. Its magic can take you to another place, perhaps, another time. You are soon mesmerized and, just like that, “in” the ballet.
Dancers extraordinaire and Vail International Dance Festival artists-in-residence Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild can take you on that journey. Their energy is contagious.
Born in Bakersfield, Calif., Peck began watching dance classes in her mother’s studio at age two. She started private ballet lessons with former Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer Alla Khaniashvili at age seven and at the age of 12, she entered the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet, for the 2000-01 winter term.
Fairchild, who hails from Salt Lake City, Utah, began his training at the age of four and, at age 10 he began his formal ballet training at the Ballet West Conservatory as well as the Jacqueline College School of Ballet. In 2003 he, too, entered School of American Ballet as a full-time student.
Because of their boundless enthusiasm and unique sensibility, in just a few years, Peck and Fairchild went from being apprentices to being asked to join the NYCB as members of the corps de ballet, to soloists to principals. It’s no surprise that these two accomplished dancers were on a fast track.
“I remember my first day of class at the New York City Ballet, and being there with all of the people that I idolized,” recalls Peck. “We watched them so often when we were in school, but then to be standing next to Wendy Whalen in class was amazing. I think the first ballet I did was Symphony in C and I shared the stage with a lot of principals. It was surreal.”
“My first ballet was ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ I was in the court scene in the second act,” Fairchild said. “I remember the first time I saw the New York City Ballet dance, other than the ‘The Nutcracker,’ was ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ After seeing that performance, I thought, ‘that’s what I really want do. I want to be in that ballet company.’”
Peck and Fairchild were both promoted to principals at about the same time. Peck and three other soloists were in a studio to learn a new piece, with ballet master-in-chief Peter Martins, when Martins turned to Peck and asked if she could do a double (pirouette). She answered, “Yes.” Martins replied, “Of course you can, you’re a principal dancer. In fact, you are all principal dancers.” The four dancers were in such shock, that they just continued dancing when, finally Martins asked, “Do you guys need to take a second?”
Fairchild and fellow dancers Sterling Hyltin and Daniel Ulbricht had just had a successful two-week run of Romeo and Juliet when they were called to Martins’ office, presumably to go over corrections. Instead, Fairchild and the others found all of the ballet masters lining the hallway, as they approached the office, all ready to congratulate them on their promotion.
“At the time, I felt it was really bazaar to be promoted after having danced a solo in only one ballet,” admits Fairchild. “But, I suppose when you see someone working out in the studio everyday, you get to know your dancers. It was a lot of faith.”
As it happens, after years of getting to know each other and, at times, dancing as partners, Peck and Fairchild became engaged — to one another.
“Honestly, I knew that Robbie was ‘the one’ since I was 14,” admits Peck. “I always felt like he was my soulmate even after we broke up during our days at SAB. I tried to move on, but no one quite compared to him. He has always been my best friend and ‘it’ for me.”
Fairchild’s memory is also very clear. “I knew that I liked Tiler at Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey on a SAB field trip,” he lovingly recalls. “She was always the one. Like most guys, I was the one, in a relationship, who needed to grow up. I never felt for anyone else the way I do about her. I am so grateful to have known her since I was so young because it created such a familiarity and bond between us.”
And that bond translates into their dancing partnerships as well. “When we dance together, if feels much steamier,” Fairchild said. “We get to do a lot of romantic parts together and there is no forcing anything. It’s great to be able to play off of her vibes and have it mean something to me.
“She also challenges me with the delivery of steps, in partnering with her and with my own individual solos. She has such a fearlessness about her that has helped me a lot in achieving my best work.”
Both dancers credit Damian Woetzel, artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival, with the direction and tremendous encouragement he has offered during the years, especially Peck, with whom Woetzel partnered when he was a star at NYCB — a partnership that Peck considers pivotal.
“Damian educated me on so many levels,” she told Astrida Woods in an interview for Dance Magazine. “I learned how to play with the music and to make things softer. Before I tried to do everything on the beat, but Damian showed me how to ‘ride the music.’” During rehearsals, he would engage Peck in dialog: he’d ask what her character was thinking, or what motivated a movement. And she remembers him advising, “Whatever you do, never be predictable.”
Woetzel and Fairchild never danced together but, rather, were on opposite sides in West Side Story. “Damian played Riff and I played Tony,” Fairchild said. “I remember keeping my Playbill program because I thought it was so special. I didn’t know Damian very well and when he invited me to dance in Vail, it was a huge compliment. That was the beginning of it all for me.
“For a guy to have another male in your corner, who has been there and done it all, to coach you in dance has been a huge blessing — because you work so hard at the company and you can really get just in one zone. But when you have someone who has a view form the outside, it can open up your eyes to a whole lot of possibilities, perhaps a way of doing a step. I wouldn’t feel as comfortable in some of the roles that I do had it not been for Damian’s guidance and help.”
Peck and Fairchild always look forward to the comradeship between dancers that the festival brings. They enjoy being part of a new group and learning from other dancers. In a way, it’s a kind of reunion as they went to school with some of the other dancers before dispersing to various ballet companies.
And Fairchild adds, “In New York, we work in a studio that doesn’t have any windows, so for us to be in Vail and have an outdoor theater and the view we have, is unbelievable. It’s just a breath of fresh air for every dancer because it’s so not the norm.
“As dancers, we are always trying to transcend and take ourselves to another place. But we don’t have to work so hard mentally in Vail, because we’re already in it.”