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Craig Hall, repetiteur for Justin Peck, sits down with BalletMet

Dance is a powerful form of art that captures the imagination of both performers and spectators. Behind the captivating steps and poised ballet performances, there is an army of professionals ensuring the harmony of choreography, music, and stage. Among them stands Justin Peck, an extraordinary choreographer known for his groundbreaking work, including collaborations with distinguished dancers and repetiteurs like Craig Hall. 

This piece delves deep into the synergy between Justin Peck and Craig Hall and reveals secrets behind ballet’s continued evolution.

The Repetiteur: Dance’s Unsung Hero

While many outside the dance community might be unfamiliar with the role of a “repetiteur,” it is pivotal in the world of ballet. Craig Hall, who’s had the honor of working closely with Justin Peck, once described the role, saying, “It’s someone who takes a work, a dance, a piece and is in charge of the counts, music, and the staging.”

Essentially, a repetiteur safeguards the choreographer’s vision, ensuring every detail remains intact.

My job is to preserve Justin Peck’s works. He creates [a work] and I’ll take notes and once the ballet travels again, or if he’s not around, I am the person in charge of keeping that intact: from his ideas and intentions to the final stage.
– Craig Hall

Craig Hall’s Ballet Journey

Starting in Chicago, Craig Hall embarked on an extraordinary ballet journey. He recalls initially not enjoying ballet. Hall says “I actually did not fall in love with it. I fell in love with everything but ballet because it was way too hard.”

But that all changed when he crossed paths with the Joffrey Ballet. Moving to New York City for a summer program at the School of American Ballet marked a significant turning point. From there, a 17-year association with the New York City Ballet culminated, leading him to the esteemed role of a soloist, and later, a repetiteur.

Photo by Dmitry Beryozkin
Restaging Justin Peck’s Masterpieces

One of Craig Hall’s pivotal tasks as a repetiteur has been to restage Justin Peck’s renowned ballets. He’s charged with ensuring Peck’s intricate choreography — filled with geometric shapes and profound dancer camaraderie — is faithfully rendered on stage.

BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, is set to premiere one of Peck’s more exemplary pieces, The Times Are Racing, at their season-opening production, On Stage. This marks a significant milestone, as the esteemed dance company embraces Justin Peck’s innovative choreography, introducing it to a fresh audience. 

[Justin Peck] wants each company to have their unique version of the piece, their own feel, and personality. And a lot of times it’s the dancers. It’s a combination of dancers. It’s the city that you’re in. It’s where you’re living in the world. All of that creates a special bond, and he wants that to be true to the piece, and he wants to give that to the audience.
– Craig Hall

Such collaborations signify the expanding reach of Peck’s work, further solidifying his legacy in the world of ballet. In The Times Are Racing, dancers, donned in sneakers, radiate unity and camaraderie.

BalletMet dancers in rehearsal for Justin Peck's "The Times Are Racing"
Photo by Jennifer Zmuda Photography

Hall compares the performance to a vibrant party where each dancer seems lost in their favorite song. The ballet demands unparalleled energy from the performers, leaving them both exhilarated and drained.

Get your tickets to see BalletMet’s Premiere of The Times Are Racing.

The Essence of Repetition: Hall’s Approach

Craig Hall’s process is both meticulous and innovative. He observes dancers keenly, searching for those who bring individuality to the choreography. Using metaphors and analogies, he allows dancers to connect profoundly with the soul of the choreography.

A lot of this is about the soul and it’s about the dancer and not so much the steps.
– Craig Hall

Hall finds it a daily challenge to balance staying true to Justin Peck’s original intent of the work, with the individuality of the dancers he meets on a regular basis. Ultimately, Hall and Peck want to see each dancer for who they are as they go after Peck’s choreography. 

Oftentimes, as Hall communicates back and forth with Peck about the learning process, they are excited to see certain pairs and individuals pull something out of the choreography that they were not expecting.

Sneakers in Ballet: A Justin Peck Signature

Justin Peck’s work and its lineage can be traced back to the likes of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. His intricate geometric shapes and moving patterns make for a visual masterpiece. 

Photo by Jennifer Zmuda Photography

But beyond the choreography, the dancers wearing sneakers is a unique trademark of Justin Peck’s ballets. However, these aren’t ordinary sneakers. Their suede-covered soles are designed specifically for the stage, ensuring dancers can slide and turn gracefully while safeguarding their well-being.

As Craig Hall pointed out, “It’s not a sneaker where you’re outdoors, just walking around. I want the sneaker and Justin wants the sneaker to be used like pointe shoes. So you’re still pointing your toes.”

This innovative approach showcases Justin Peck’s ability to take unexpected items and transform them into essential components of high-art ballet performances.

An Ode to Dance: Craig Hall’s Commitment

Through tireless dedication to dance and his collaboration with luminary choreographers like Justin Peck, Craig Hall continues to play an instrumental role in propelling the art of ballet forward. Together, they cast a spell on global audiences, celebrating the enchantment that dance offers.

As they push the boundaries, they inspire countless dancers and captivate audiences, ensuring that the art form remains dynamic and relevant in the modern era. 

Their combined legacies not only pay homage to the rich history of dance but also chart a vibrant path for its future, making every performance a testament to their shared vision and dedication.