In the Countenance of Kings
Music and Original Orchestration
Sufjan Stevens (The BQE, 2007-2009); orchestration by Michael P. Atkinson
Brandon Stirling Baker
April 7, 2016; San Francisco Ballet
Pacific Northwest Ballet Premiere: March 15, 2019
The 2019 Pacific Northwest Ballet premiere of Justin Peck’s In the Countenance of Kings is principally supported by Bob Benson, with additional support from Rev. Mary Petty Anderson, Lynne E. Graybeal & Scott Harron, H. David Kaplan and the William & Carole Ellison Foundation.
In the Countenance of Kings, Justin Peck’s exuberant work for 18 dancers, was made for San Francisco Ballet in 2016. The dance features music by Peck’s frequent collaborator, Oscar-nominated indie rocker Sufjan Stevens (composer for Peck’s Year of the Rabbit), who has referred to his score, The BQE, as “a cinematic suite inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Hula-Hoop.” The ballet’s name is taken from one of the movements of The BQE. Dance writer Carla Escoda explains, “The title can perhaps be understood not as a reference to aristocracy but as a play on (the now ultra-hip) Kings County—as the English renamed the towns it wrested from the Dutch settlers of ‘Breuckelen’ in the seventeenth century.” Peck has even given his dancers character names à la Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrims Progress: The Protagonist, Botanica, Quantus, and Electress, for example.
Collaboration with youthful contemporaries is important to Peck: “My intention is to make sure that the new work being created for the ballet world is relevant. I think it’s really important to keep working with artists of this generation, whether they be visual artists, or designers, or composers.” These words echo the sentiments of Jerome Robbins, who once said in an interview, “Why can’t we dance about American subjects? Why can’t we talk about the way we dance today and how we are now?”
Reviewing the first performance of Kings, Janice Berman wrote, “While Peck’s is an original voice, as is Stevens’, it was impossible not to be reminded of collaborations between Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein such as On the Town and West Side Story; the new piece has that urban thrust, coupled with a persistently glorious rhythmic intensity. And likeability.”
In the Countenance of Kings is the third work by Justin Peck to be added to PNB’s repertory.
Notes by Doug Fullington.
Felipe Diaz was born in Bogota, Colombia where he began his training with his parents Ana Consuelo Gomez and Jaime Diaz. He then continued his training at San Francisco Ballet School. Over a career spanning 22 years, Diaz danced as a soloist with San Francisco Ballet, English National Ballet, and Dutch National Ballet. His roles included the Prince in Ashton’s Cinderella, Basilio in Ratmansky’s Don Quixote, the Cavalier in Christensen/Tomasson’s Nutcracker and the Eagling/van Schaik production, James in La Sylphide, Lensky in Cranko’s Onegin, Petrouschka in Petrouschka, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, and leading roles in works by renowned choreographers such as George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Harald Lander, Helgi Tomasson, Christopher Wheeldon, Hans van Manen, Alexei Ratmansky, and William Forsythe, among others. After retiring from the stage, Diaz began working as ballet master for Dutch National Ballet and has been a guest teacher for several ballet companies in Europe, the United States, and Asia. Diaz assumed the title of ballet master at San Francisco Ballet in 2013.
Ellen Warren (Ostrom) is a former dancer with New York City Ballet (where she danced with Peter Boal and Justin Peck) and Oregon Ballet Theatre. She owns her own dancewear line, Louise Apparel.
Brandon Stirling Baker
Brandon Stirling Baker is an American lighting designer for ballet, opera, and theater. His lighting has been commissioned by New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Paul Taylor, Limón Dance Company, and many others. Mr.Baker’s lighting has been also been presented at theaters internationally, including Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, New York City Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Théâtre du Châtelet Paris, Le Silo Marseille, Maison de la Danse Lyon, Sadlers Wells London, Teatro Municipal Colombia South America, Oldenburgisches Staatstheater Germany, Havana Ballet Festival Cuba, and the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain. Mr. Baker is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts and studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama in Glasgow, Scotland. In January 2019, he was the subject of a New York Times feature.
Gallery photos © Angela Sterling