Few dancers are given the opportunity to bring an iconic piece of artwork to life, never mind when they’re just 25 years old. However, Tiler Peck, a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, is doing just that as she stars in the new Little Dancer musical, which is based off the amazing 17th-century sculpture by Edgar Degas. The show, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, is playing at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts through Nov. 30, 2014.
‘Little Dancer Age Fourteen’
In 1878, Edgar Degas began his iconic wax sculpture, “Little Dancer Age Fourteen,” based on the young ballerina Marie van Goethem. Degas began painting dancers after becoming fascinated by the backstage life of the Paris Opera. His work culminated with a diminutive wax dancer who’s dressed in a tutu and slippers and adorned with real human hair.
Artnet Magazine explained that the piece was met with mixed reviews by Degas’s peers, as it was unprecedented to use non-art materials in sculpture. However, the statute and its model, the young Goethem, have inspired dancers and artists since, including Lynn Ahrens, the playwright behind the new musical.
“I began to see a story emerging about an artist who was beginning to go blind, who was frightened that he was losing his power to paint,” Ahrens explained to NPR. “Into his life, somehow, walks a little girl who inspires him in some way, because she is such an urchin, such a spirit and a stubborn soul, and he begins to sketch her and suddenly decides that he wants to sculpt.”
Ahrens shaped the Little Dancer musical into a show that explores Goethem’s relationship with Degas as it relates to the struggle of young women in Paris at the time. The young ballerina was born into poverty but worked hard to secure a spot with the Paris Ballet company.
Tiler Peck as Goethem
Tiler Peck was cast to play the young ballerina, opposite actor Boyd Gaines as Degas. According to the NYC Ballet, Peck has been dancing since she was 7. She joined the School of American Ballet at age 12 and became an apprentice with the company just four years later. Outside the Lincoln Center, Peck has also performed in “The Music Man” on Broadway, danced in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and starred in several major films. It’s an impressive resume for a dancer whose career has just begun.
According the Associated Press, Peck is just as dedicated to this musical as she has been to her previous projects. She’s visited the sculpture, which is located at the National Gallery of Art, a number of times to get in character.
“I want to make sure I get it as perfectly as possible and to be as true to the sculpture as I can,” Peck told the AP. “To be able to see exactly how her hands are clasped and what her hair looked like, where the ribbon was placed.”
Peck described the role as “emotionally exhausting,” as Goethem struggled to overcome many barriers before she made it as a ballerina. Looking at the dancer’s back story, it’s no wonder that Degas was inspired to immortalize her.
If you’re located in the District of Columbia or a nearby state, your dancers might enjoy the opportunity to see Peck bring the Little Dancer musical to life. If you can’t make the play, the National Gallery of Art is hosting an exhibition featuring the original statue and a number of related pieces through Jan. 11, 2015.
Images of Tiler Peck in the role of the Kennedy Center’s “Little Dancer” by Matthew Karas. Used with permission.