JUSTIN PECK AND SASHA WALTZ TALK CHOREOGRAPHY, HUMAN MOVEMENT, & ON’S NEW CAMPAIGN
No one knows more about human movement than two of the most acclaimed choreographers in the world, Justin Peck and Sasha Waltz. As the creative minds behind the choreography for projects such as Terry Riley’s In C and Steven Speilberg’s West Side Story, Sasha and Justin are what you might consider to be experts in the idea of movement. And dance may be one of the most captivating forms of movement, but it’s also one of the most innate; it’s a demonstration of free, fluid motion, something almost natural and undeniably human.
This is why On enlisted the pair to get involved in a dance film for its SS23 “Move Like a Human” campaign. Featuring an array of dancers who move through a space in hypnotic waves, both encapsulating the pulsing fluidity of the group as well as the imperfect movements of the individual, Justin and Sasha showcased the importance of human movement. As a sportswear brand, On normally prioritises comfort and durability for athletes; however, the brand’s “Move Like a Human” campaign aims to consider that “we may not all be elite athletes – but we’re all made to move”. We sat down with Sasha and Justin to find out what inspired them in choreographing and dancing for On’s campaign, what “human movement” means to them, and more.
Hi, how are you both doing today?
J: I’m good! A little bit jet lagged but yeah, I just came from New York and only got in yesterday so I’m kind of adjusting.
S: I’m very good because it’s been such good weather!
Can you give our audience a brief intro to yourselves?
J: I’m Justin, I’m a choreographer, a director, a dancer. I’m the resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet, but I’ve also done different mini projects in different mediums; I choreographed a recent revival of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, and I work in Broadway and theatre.
S: I’m Sasha and I’m a choreographer and director. I did the choreography for In C by Terry Riley, and now I’m doing, for On, the campaign “Move Like a Human”!
Can you describe the shoot with On, in just three words?
J: Collaborative, human, physical.
S: Inspiring, challenging, atmospheric.
When we say to “move like a human”, what does that mean to you?
J: To me, moving like a human goes back to all of our entries into the world and how, if you look at kids or even babies, when they come into this world there’s a kind of physicality to how they move, and especially how they respond to music. It’s something innate in all of us, it’s kind of the first language that we all experience and communicate with. This is just a campaign that takes this one step further and carries it forward, taking simple gestures and seeing how those expand into these sort of elegant or beautiful movements through space.
S: For me, it’s part of my profession to work in movement, but it’s also the essence of who we are until we die, from the moment we get up out of bed and pick up our coffee cup. Even just breathing is movement, the heartbeat is movement, everything is movement, everything is a pulse, and in dance we just choreograph and compose this movement in space and time. I also think city life is a huge organised movement that I find very inspiring in my work.
Sasha, what’s your earliest memory involving dance?
As a child my parents had an old record player with singles by The Beatles, Nancy Sinatra, and I used to dance around the living room; it’s one of my first memories.
Do you prefer to choreograph dance or perform it?I’m a choreographer really – I choreograph dance. I used to dance at the beginning of my career, but I find it’s much clearer to be on the outside, to see what’s going on.
Why do you think On’s “human movement” campaign is so important?
Without movement, we wouldn’t exist or communicate. Movement is the essence of living and being together as a human society.
Having founded the Children’s Dance Company (2007), how is choreographing dance for children vs. adults different?
Children are much more playful; they need much more movement and much more freedom, they don’t want to be so confined or controlled. With children I also like to put an emphasis on developing creative movements, an expression and a way they can bring their inner feelings into movement just purely through how they bring their energy out in a space. A lot of children are quite confined in their environment, either in school or at home, so to give them the opportunity in dance to move, own the space, communicate with others, and feel part of a community is a really amazing experience.
What would you say you love the most about choreography?
You can showcase something that you feel or find is most relevant at this particular moment in time, and give it a form and share it with your audience.
Favourite track to dance to?
One symphony I like at the moment, which I’m working on, is Beethoven 7, but I’m also creating a piece with an electronic composer from Chile called Diego Noguera; he does this amazing electronic music. So, I like very diverse music.
What about On’s collection do you feel tailors it to both athletes and non-athletes?
That it’s very good in daily life – you can really use On’s shoes in any kind of physical exercise but also as daily wear. It’s very comfortable. For example, with all the dancers today, even after all the dancing I still thought “oh, I think they could just keep it on, and keep going,” and I think this is because On crosses very easily from practice or training into daily life.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your choreography for On’s campaign? What feelings did you want to evoke?
For me, it’s really important to get a collectiveness, a feeling of togetherness and equality. The sense that everybody’s really feeling free and can make their own choices, but still feel very connected in the collective, and that we see all the individuals in this large group. It’s a feeling of Utopia and something very human. The idea of “Moving Like a Human” is something I feel like is lacking in the everyday; we need to give each other the space to be as we are, as each individual is, and I hope that this comes across.
Justin, what do you think is the best style of dance to get you moving?
Whatever style is most personal to you – I think it just depends. To me, it’s more what kind of music gets you moving, so anything from Aaron Copland to Beyoncé’s new album.
What was your favourite part of doing choreography for West Side Story?
My favourite part was getting to reimagine movement for the film medium, and getting to work with like a real master of that craft and learning a bunch from Steven Spielberg. Also, just getting to create something for that scale; there were like some sequences that had, like, 100 dancers moving through it. The thing with theatre and Broadway is it’s contained in this box of a space, you’re presenting towards an audience so you’re very much aware that they’re right there. Whereas with the film medium, it just unlocks the point of view to be from any direction, any height, and kind of focus, so there’s just so much possibility with making movement.
Best crowd you’ve ever had?
A recent memory that really sticks out for me is: I just premiered a new full length evening for New York City Ballet at the Lincoln Centre – it actually just happened 2 weeks ago in New York – and that was all set to music by Aaron Copland and it was sort of overwhelming because we had sold out houses and the audience response was just really, really incredible and and enthralling.
What about On’s collection do you feel encourages movement?
Well, On’s collection brings out the comfort and full range of movement for anyone who wears it; there’s nothing restricting about it. Beyond that, when you put on their footwear, it’s almost like you just like spring right into action. It’s really, like, kind of incredible, and they’ve become sort of my go to shoes to wear in the studio and out of the studio.
What’s your favourite piece of movie choreography (excluding your own of course!)?
It’s hard to pick one. I would say there’s a scene in Sweet Charity by Fosse called The Rich Man’s Frug, which is incredible in terms of what Fosse did with a camera. Or I’m a huge fan of, like, the Golden Age – Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly – those kinds of films which are more focused on the full body in the frame and extended takes, showing the authentic performance and the real talent of those artists.
How does the choreography relate to the message of On’s campaign? What kind of moves can we expect to see?
I think the choreography is really about extending this mundane movement into an impressive, almost airborne motion as performed by the dancers, and it’s about how the everyday person can really envision themselves becoming a part of this.
Why do you think On’s message that “we are all made to move” is so important?
Movement is everywhere. It’s in how you wake up in the morning and pour yourself a cup of coffee: there’s a kind of movement to that, a coordination and a rhythm to that. It’s in how we commute and how we dance to how we exert ourselves physically. All of that is so much a part of all of us; that’s what this campaign is really celebrating and supporting.
What’s your number one piece of advice when it comes to getting up and moving, whether this be through dance or otherwise?
Make sure you stretch. Don’t go 0 to 100 immediately, ease your way into it. But once you get there, push yourself.
Find the full campaign video and collection at https://www.on-running.com/en-gb/
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