JUSTIN PECK

JUSTIN PECK

TAKE A BOW

New York City Ballet Resident Choreographer Justin Peck remembers the performance that set his burgeoning career in motion.

Justin Peck in rehearsal with a dancer, photograph by Cheryl Mann

My first major commission for the New York City Ballet, ‘Year of the Rabbit,’ premiered at Lincoln Center in 2012. I was 24.

The piece was a collaboration with the composer Sufjan Stevens. New York City Ballet actually contacted me in 2010 to let me know that I had been selected to choreograph a performance, so this was something I thought about for a very long time.

I spent a couple months in my studio developing the piece, and then worked with 18 dancers — a pretty large cast — for five weeks in the summer of 2012 to perfect it.

Peck at work, photograph by Yana Paskova

Dancers performing “Year of the Rabbit,” photograph by Paul Kolnik

The show was set to a string orchestration of electronic songs previously written by Sufjan that were inspired by the Chinese zodiac cycle.

By the time the ballet debuted, the orchestra had grown to consist of 32 musicians.

On opening night, Sufjan and I arrived at the theater together. There was a strong buzz in the audience, and the room’s energy was palpable.

The “Year of the Rabbit” company performing at the show’s NYCB premiere, photograph by Paul Kolnik

I was so nervous — there’s no control over a large group’s reaction to a ballet — but when the curtain closed, we were pleasantly surprised.

Even though I had choreographed pieces before, ‘Year of the Rabbit’ really got the ball rolling in terms of my career.

It was only a couple years later that I was appointed resident choreographer of New York City Ballet.

— as told to The Thick

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Ballerina Teresa Reichlen soars in a performance of “Year of the Rabbit,” photograph by Paul Kolnik