Tiler Peck was born to dance. The New York City Ballet principal dancer started taking class at her mother’s dance studio when she was just two years old. In love with dance from toddlerhood, Peck became a student at the School of American Ballet at age 14 before her apprenticeship and becoming a full time member of the company in 2005.
One of the youngest dancers ever promoted to principal in the company’s history, she has danced ballets by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Susan Stroman, Christopher Wheeldon, and resident choreographer Justin Peck. But Peck (as in Tiler) also crosses between classical dance and musical theatre, having made her Broadway debut as Gracie Shinn in the 2000 revival of The Music Man, then replacing as Ivy in the Tony-nominated revival of On The Town choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. She performed at the Kennedy Center Honors in tribute to dancer Natalia Makarova in 2012 and again for Patricia McBride in 2014. But she truly wowed D.C. audiences with her performance in Susan Stroman’s Broadway-bound musical Little Dancer, based on the Edgar Degas painting. But not until dancing as the Sugar Plum Fairy in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker did Peck first feel like a true ballerina. We asked Peck about her other firsts, including the first show that impacted her, her first time seeing her name in a Playbill, and her first thought when she enters the stage each night.
What was the first ballet you ever saw?
The first by a professional company was New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker when I was 11 years old.
What was the first piece of theatre or dance that thrilled you and made you think?
Miss Saigon in London’s West End. I was way too young to fully understand what was happening, but my memory is so vivid of that performance and the helicopter!
What was your first audition ever?
My first audition ever was for Sabon when I was six years old. I actually can’t remember what we were asked to do; however, it did go well because I booked the job! I know they were looking for a hip hop dancer so I remember we put my entire head in braids. I remember them saying that they would have booked me just from my braids alone, but then when they saw me dance they were even more ecstatic.
What was your first paid dancing gig?
I believe my first paid dancing gig was a Sabon industrial show.
What was your first response when you learned you would make your New York City Ballet debut?
When Peter Martins told me I would be an apprentice with the New York City Ballet I was in complete shock. It was at the last performance of what we call Workshop (the end of the year showcase at The School of American Ballet) and I was 15. I never thought I would be accepted after just one full-year term at School of American Ballet, but what a wonderful surprise it was!
What was the first sequence you rehearsed for the Sugar Plum Fairy? How did you feel?
The first sequence I learned for the Sugar Plum fairy was the grand pas de deux. It felt sort of like a dream, because it is the role that every ballerina wants and hopes to one day dance in The Nutcracker. I definitely remember feeling “now this is what it feels like to really be a ballerina.”
What is the character that resonated most with you of all the ballets you’ve danced?
Until this fall when I made my debut in Swan Lake, I would have said that the characters who most resonated with me were Swanhilda in Coppelia, which luckily goes this spring, and Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, which goes this winter. However, my Swan Lake debut this past October came at a pivotal moment in my career and life and I really felt like Odette was a part of me.
In one word, what was your first performance at Lincoln Center like?
What was it like to see your name in a program powered by Playbill for the first time?
I remember saving the program and thinking, “Is this really happening!?”
What is your first thought when you make your entrance each night?
I always say to myself, “Go out there and enjoy every minute.” I feel so fortunate to be living a dream that so many girls have at some point had and I know this career is so precious and limited in duration.
Who was the first person you greeted during your first exit from the stage door?
I am sure it was my mother, who is my biggest fan and supporter!
What is the first thought you have when you take your final bow?
It totally depends on the ballet and what the performance was like but I always feel so much gratitude to be able to go out every night and do what I love: dance my heart out!