Pacific Northwest Ballet premieres “Year of the Rabbit,” based on a Sufjan Stevens album, by young choreographer Justin Peck.
Things are moving quickly for Justin Peck. At 19, he became a member of the prestigious New York City Ballet; two years later, he participated in the New York Choreographic Institute. Now 28, he’s created 10 ballets for NYCB, and is not only a soloist with the company but its resident choreographer — only the second person in NYCB’s history (following Christopher Wheeldon) to hold that position.
“Year of the Rabbit,” Peck’s first commissioned ballet for NYCB, is now wandering far from New York: After staging it for Miami City Ballet last month, he came to Seattle last week to prepare the work for Pacific Northwest Ballet, where it will premiere on March 18 as part of the “Director’s Choice” repertory program. “This is [my] first work that’s really gone out into the world,” he said, “and so it’s really interesting to see how the different companies respond to it … It just kind of breathes in its own way, from company to company.”
The ballet, Peck said, is a seven-movement piece for 18 dancers. Its original inspiration was “Enjoy Your Rabbit,” a thematic song cycle by composer Sufjan Stevens, in which each movement was based on a different animal sign from the Chinese zodiac. The score, Peck said, is a “special and interesting piece that audiences seem to really respond to.”
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Pacific Northwest Ballet at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; March 18-27, $30-$187 (206-441-2424 or pnb.org).
Back in 2009, he heard Stevens’ music played by a string quartet and thought it was “really interesting stuff. It incorporates a lot of unorthodox ways of actually playing the instruments and creates a lot of percussive, visceral sounds using string instruments. I thought that would be a great foundation for a ballet.”
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Though he’s spent his entire career at NYCB, Peck’s ties to PNB are strong: Artistic director Peter Boal, a former NYCB dancer, was his teacher at the School of American Ballet, and Peck attended PNB’s summer program as a teenager. In 2014, he returned to create an original ballet on the company, the romantic “Debonair.”
Knowing PNB’s dancers made it easy, he said, to cast his ballet: “They have a very long, regal presence about them, and so there’s a real elegance to the way that they’re executing the choreography. They have such a wide array of experience with all the ballets they’ve performed and the range of repertory that they do, so it’s exciting to work with them.”
Back home at NYCB, Peck had another career milestone last month: the premiere of his first narrative, large-scale work. “The Most Incredible Thing,” based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, featured elaborate costumes and a cast of 56 dancers. And a unique experience came to him last year, in his dual role of company dancer/choreographer: He found himself, after another dancer’s last-minute injury, unexpectedly dancing in the world premiere of his work “Rodeo.”
“That was really the only time when I’ve performed in my work. It was kind of exhilarating, actually,” he said. “It felt different, I have to say. It’s my own movement, it’s uninhibited, it felt very free.”
The “Director’s Choice” program will also include the PNB premiere of “Little mortal jump,” by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo (whose “Memory Glow” was created for PNB in 2014), and the return of “Rush,” choreographed in 2002 by PNB ballet master/choreographer Paul Gibson.