Arts and Entertainment | Dance

Justin Peck: From Columbia to NYC Ballet

One former General Studies student is making a name for himself choreographing critically acclaimed work for the New York City Ballet.

“Columbia is where it all started for me,” explained Justin Peck, a 25-year-old New York City Ballet corps de ballet dancer and choreographer. His new ballet, “Year of the Rabbit,” recently premiered to many accolades—the New York Times labeled it a “true coming-out party.”

In February this year, New York City Ballet commissioned two works from Peck: “Year of the Rabbit,” which ran at the New York City Ballet in October, and another work, “In Creases,” which was set to the music of Philip Glass and premiered in July. For someone as young as Peck, a commission from New York City Ballet is a rare honor.

Sandwiched in between a work by Benjamin Millepied and another by Christopher Wheeldon—both established choreographers—“Year of the Rabbit” featured seven movements, each named after a sign in the Chinese zodiac. Teresa Reichlen, a principal at New York City Ballet who studied at Barnard, was a featured dancer. The piece received high praise from critics and multiple standing ovations from the audience.

Peck, who was briefly a part-time student at GS a few years ago, said he took advantage of the professional dancers who were just then forming the Columbia Ballet Collaborative, a campus ballet company, to explore the world of choreography. “It was a big learning experience for me because you can’t really study to be a choreographer,” Peck said. “You just have to try it. It was about figuring out if I was interested, and then also what sort of choreographer I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish
through movement.”

His first piece for CBC, “A Teacup Plunge,” was “a short four-minute pas de deux—the first performance at Miller Theatre.” Peck choreographed it for Russell Janzen and Reichlen. A year later, “I did another pas de deux for CBC, and that was the first time I discovered this body of music that was based on the Chinese zodiac.” Peck called it
“Year of the Rabbit,” although he noted that the choreography “actually had nothing to do with the City Ballet version. I used the same body of music but completely different movement.”

But his time as a student dancer was short-lived.

Peck said he was forced to leave Columbia due to the difficulty of balancing his schedule as a full-time dancer and choreographer with that of a student. “Everything at City
Ballet is really involving—and to put in the amount of time needed to do well at Columbia ... it’s not doable.”

During his time at Columbia, Peck said that he “was just trying out various subjects” academically.

“I’d like to return, for sure, but it’s up in the air at this point,” he said.

After leaving Columbia, he also started working with the New York Choreographic Institute.

“It’s kind of funny,” Peck remarked, “because the first time I ever showed any of my ideas from my work at the New York Choreographic Institute for a performance at the Miller Theatre, the Choreographic Institute was doing this 10th anniversary performance and it happened to be at Miller.”

Peck plans to continue choreographing, but is currently taking a much-needed break for the next few months now that New York City Ballet’s fall season is over. “I have a few other projects in the works,” Peck said, “but I can’t officially announce anything at this point.”

arts@columbiaspectator.com

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