The Soloist and choreographer Peter Walker on the original performance he created in celebration of Sotheby’s Festival of Wonder, premiering 4 December 2020 on sothebys.com.
T he New York City Ballet is gracing the galleries of Sotheby’s auction house this holiday season. On 4 December, Sotheby’s will release a short film set to music from the ballet The Nutcracker, featuring two members of the world-class company performing choreography created by NYCB Soloist Peter Walker specially for the building’s galleries. The ballet, popularized by the legendary and highly influential George Balanchine for NYCB, is now a ubiquitous holiday tradition for many around the world.
Walker, an illustrious choreographer, joined NYCB at the age of eighteen after graduating from the School of American Ballet. In his tenure at NYCB, he has choreographed two original ballets. The performance at Sotheby's marks Walker's most recent creative project, and will be introduced by NYCB Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford and Sotheby’s Frank Everett. This original interpretation will feature NYCB Soloist Sebastian Villarini-Velez and Corps de Ballet member India Bradley, who will be wearing pieces from Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels and Important Watches auctions.
In tandem, the dancers will be surrounded by mounted artworks on offer in the upcoming Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary Art marquee auction on 8 December.
The event ushers in The Festival of Wonder, a two-week luxury sale series of jewels, watches, sneakers, designer handbags and wine offered through a series of live and online auctions, in addition to the company’s new Buy Now marketplace.
Here, we sit down with Peter Walker to learn more about his original choreography in celebration of this beloved holiday classic.
Sotheby's: When were you first introduced to dance and ballet? How did you get your start?
Peter Walker: I started tap dancing at the age of eight, inspired by the old Hollywood musicals like Singin’ in the Rain. I started ballet soon after at my teacher’s suggestion that I’d need it if I ever wanted to dance on Broadway.
What made you decide to pursue ballet as a career?
I never set out to become a ballet dancer, but I knew I wanted to become a performer of some kind. I was just really fortunate to be exposed to the world of NYCB at a young age.
Can you describe your history with the NYCB?
I’ve been with the company for about ten years. I graduated from the School of American Ballet (SAB) when I was eighteen and joined the company right after. I was promoted to soloist in 2018 and have choreographed two original ballets for the company.
What first inspired you to begin choreographing?
NYCB has a rich history of creating new works and being exposed to them as a student definitely inspired me. Additionally, SAB has a student choreographic workshop where you can take your own stab at choreographing – that really sparked my brain to think about choreographing more.
Who has influenced you most as a dancer and choreographer?
As a dancer I was most influenced by my peers, the people I was learning and growing with at SAB. As a choreographer, it was Balanchine and Robbins at first because of the wide range of their choreographic catalogue, but now I like to find inspiration from non-traditional choreographers and dance-makers.
Can you tell us about your upcoming collaboration with Sotheby’s?
I’m excited to share this site-specific work in the non-traditional space of the Sotheby’s galleries. This video will highlight both the beauty of the dancers and the impressive collections that Sotheby’s has to offer.
What part of The Nutcracker will the dancers be performing?
The dancers will be performing original choreography inspired by the spirit of The Nutcracker made specifically for the unique galleries it will be performed in.
What is your process for approaching a new piece of choreography, like for this project?
I generally start with the space it is going to be created in. I try to use the choreography to complement and interact with the space while also trying to highlight the space and the art as its own character within the piece.
Who are the dancers we can look forward to seeing dance?
You will be seeing Sebastian Villarini-Velez, a soloist with NYCB, and India Bradley, a corps de ballet member with the company.
How do you reinterpret such a classic ballet for the contemporary world?
I’ve been using the feeling The Nutcracker evokes as my outline for translating that energy into this new piece.
The galleries at Sotheby’s will be filled with art from our upcoming Contemporary and Impressionist Art sales – how will that art be incorporated into the performance?
We plan to use the collections featured in the Festival of Wonder to add another component to the dance.
Tell us about the music you selected for this performance and how you chose it.
The music is a modernized arrangement of the "Waltz of the Flowers" from The Nutcracker’s second act. This will help us tie together the contemporary art with the classical tradition of The Nutcracker.
The Nutcracker is so closely associated with the NYCB, as well as the holiday season – why do you think the story, and Balanchine’s production specifically, continue to resonate with people?
NYCB’s The Nutcracker is synonymous with the holiday season in New York City, and it continues to elicit a feeling of warmth, togetherness and nostalgia, especially now, in this surreal and unpredictable world we are living in.
Header Image: Megan Fairchild and members of New York City Ballet (including India Bradley, on right at front) in New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Photo credit Erin Baiano