Shepard Fairey Does Ballet

Finlay MacKay

New York's golden-boy choreographer, Justin Peck, tapped the street-art legend for an upcoming commission at the Miami City Ballet.

A 27-year-old soloist at New York City Ballet and the company’s second-ever resident choreographer, Justin Peck has in two short years made seven exhilarating new works for his home company. But an upcoming commission for Miami City Ballet may prove his most striking yet: an original piece set to Martinu’s Piano Concerto No. 1, danced before an original backdrop by Shepard Fairey, the street artist best known for his graphic Obama “Hope” poster and ubiquitous “Obey” logo.

Peck first worked in Miami last year, when Lourdes Lopez, the company’s artistic director (and a former principal ballerina at NYCB), commissioned him to create a pas de deux, Chutes and Ladders, in collaboration with the New World Symphony.

“It was a nice first step, working somewhere other than New York City Ballet,” Peck says, “and also a chance to feel each other out.” Lopez was impressed by Peck’s attitude and eye. “For someone so young, he can command a room of his peers,” she says. “He hears the music differently. He’s very cerebral.”

The Martinu ballet (which will première in March 2015) draws from Peck’s immersion in Miami. While exploring the Wynwood arts district, he spotted a mural of Fairey’s that “seemed like the heart of this whole blooming neighborhood” and realized that its aesthetic—“bold in intent and style and color”—matched that of Martinu’s ebullient concerto.

Peck cold-e-mailed Fairey, who said, “Let’s do this.” Lopez was thrilled by Peck’s choice. “For me what’s so cool [is that] Shepard’s never been to a ballet,” she says. “Justin’s so intelligent—he’s able to articulate the art form in a way these other artists respond to.”

Peck still has no idea what Fairey will create. For now, he’s working on the dance. He hopes to emphasize the individual qualities of the Miami dancers he’s come to love. “They have a really nice crispness to their movement, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie,” he says. “They’re very musical dancers, and they dance with a lot of fire and passion.”

And there’s one key difference from his City Ballet colleagues up north, Peck notes with a laugh: “They’re tanner.”

The Miami City Ballet is at 2200 Liberty Ave.; miamicityballet.org.