City Ballet: Two Hearts; Year of the Rabbit; and Les Carillons

It was a special night at New York City Ballet on Friday, October 5. In addition to pieces from Christopher Wheeldon and Benjamin Millepied, Friday night marked the world premiere of company member Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit. As terrific as he is dancing in a ballet, Peck is equally skilled at choreographing one.

But we begin, as the program did, with Two Hearts, Millepied’s most recent work for his former company. This was a second viewing for me (I saw it this past spring) and I had the same reaction: I liked everything except for the final movement.

The beginning of Two Hearts is fluid and dreamlike, almost as if the dancers, led by principals Tyler Angle and Tiler Peck (no relation to Justin), are dancing underwater. The penultimate movement is furious and strong, with Angle performing with a commanding, almost manic energy. The music, a Nico Muhly composition commissioned by City Ballet, builds, growing slightly ominous and then the end begins. That’s when the music, particularly as accompanied by lyrics, falls apart. It just plays out in a thoroughly unnatural way; I wish that I could watch Angle and Peck perform their sensual pas de deux in peace.

Next was Justin Peck's Year of the Rabbit (Selections from the Chinese Zodiac). (That's Peck at the top of this post.) For his second full ballet for the company (he also choreographed In Creases, which premiered at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the company’s summer home, this past summer, and which will play in New York this upcoming spring), Peck collaborated with contemporary musician Sufjan Stevens. According to the repertory notes, Year of the Rabbit’s score is based on Stevens’s electronica album Enjoy Your Rabbit, itself a song cycle about the Chinese Zodiac. In collaboration with Peck and Stevens, Michael P. Atkinson created arrangements and orchestrations for Enjoy Your Rabbit, adapting the album for the ballet. (Atkinson served as a guest conductor for the premiere.) I don’t know Stevens’s album, but this is an exciting and lush score, and Peck knew what he was doing with it.

Divided into seven movements that seamlessly blend together, Peck presents mediations on some of the Chinese Zodiac years. First is Year of the Ox, led by Ashley Bouder. Here, the music sounded a little like the score for a horror film, but epic. Bouder appeared intense and hungry.

Year of the Ox sets the stage, choreographically speaking, for the rest of the ballet. Peck mixes modern moves with classical dance to create his own dance language. A knowledgeable music fan, he also weaves the dance equivalent of leitmotifs into his work, so several years make momentary appearances in any given year, as if to say these may be different years, but this is all our time. (These leitmotifs were enhanced by Brandon Stirling Baker’s lighting design.)

Following the Year of the Ox is the titular Year of the Rabbit, led by Joaquin De Luz. (It’s noted in a feature article in the program that Peck, Stevens and even Mr. Balanchine were born under the Year of the Rabbit.) This year was feisty, and De Luz looked like he was searching for something.

That search continued in the next year, Year of the Tiger, led by Teresa Reichlen and Robert Fairchild. In Year of the Tiger, as in Year of the Rabbit and subsequent movements, the men were searching for something while the women challenged them, urging them on in their search. These women were flung across the stage, sliding from one side to the other because the hunt was on.

Amidst the chaos and the hunt, Reichlen and Fairchild banded together for a layered, complex pas de deux that beautifully displayed Reichlen’s long body.

The intensity continued with Year of the Dragon, a brief movement led by Bouder, with momentary appearances by Janie Taylor and Craig Hall. Year of the Dragaon foreshadowed what would happen to Bouder in the final movement, Year of the Bear.

But before the bear was the rooster. Year of the Rooster brought back Reichlen and Fairchild. The fire burned, the pulse was unrelenting and the dancing was feverish. All this was clearly leading up to something, and that was the Year of the Lord. (The Year of the Lord is, of course, not part of the Chinese Zodiac; rather, this movement is something that grew out of Peck and Stevens’s collaboration.)

Year of the Lord, as you might expect from the name, had a refreshingly different energy from the rest of the years. Taylor and Hall were seen alone on stage, dancing a quiet, slow pas de deux. Peck’s choreography here expressed romance and reverence as the pair explored their space and time.

All too soon the final movement, Year of the Boar, arrived, featuring Bouder, De Luz, Reichlen and Fairchild. The piece ended with Bouder appearing, once again, intense and focused, dancing with an impressive precision as she finally made her escape.

Justin Peck is quickly solidifying himself as an interesting and one-to-watch choreographic voice. His dances are modern melded with classicism to create something fresh and exciting, both aesthetically and intellectually. Bravo, Mr. Peck!

Completing the night of contemporary works was Christopher Wheeldon’s Les Carillons. (The last time I saw this was on its world premiere night this past January.) With the same cast (except for Sterling Hyltin dancing in place of Wendy Whelan and Lauren Lovette dancing in place of Sara Mearns), this meditation on love impressed yet again, bringing to the stage all the beauty and grace you want in a ballet.


New York City Ballet’s season continues through the end of the month. Visit for information and to purchase tickets.