Keerati Jinakunwiphat

All clothing by Hermès. Ring by Mejuri.

Live from New York: Keerati Jinakunwiphat

This fall, New York City Ballet will celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary, but even with its illustrious and fruitful legacy of supporting and championing new work across three quarters of a century, it is still notching historic firsts. In February, it presented "Fortuitous Ash," created by Keerati Jinakunwiphat, the first Asian-American woman to be commissioned by the company, to music by Du Yuan, the first Asian woman to join its repertory. A choreographer and dancer with A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, Jinakunwiphat initially worked with City Ballet in 2018, when she assisted Abraham on "The Runaway," his groundbreaking world premiere set mostly to hip hop. After two post-shutdown sessions with the City Ballet-affiliated New York Choreographic Institute, she was ready for the main stage. "I just felt like I was in a place where I was stepping into myself more," she recalls. "I think ashes, destruction, however you see it, are also breeding grounds for newness and rebirth."

Growing up in Chicago, Jinakunwiphat practiced rhythmic gymnastics and figure skating but knew she wanted to end up in dance for its sense of "community." After graduating from SUNY Purchase, she sought out an environment that would allow her to flourish as both a performer and a creator. "I wanted to make my own works and if there wasn't a company that I really wanted to dance for, I was going to try to keep making work," she says. "I was so grateful to find Kyle along the way and even more grateful to be able to do both because he's always been so encouraging, so I'm really grateful for that." Her first work for A.I.M, "Big Rings," premiered in 2019 and she has choreographed for a number of other companies since.

Alongside the AAPI talent behind the scenes of "Fortuitous Ash," there was a refreshing wealth onstage as well, although Jinakunwiphat says the final cast was the result of a variety of factors. KJ Takahashi, for example, was assigned to her at the Choreographic Institute, where he was a standout in her "Impeccable Quake." "I really saw myself in KJ, in him being free at the end," she says. Chun Wai Chan, the company's first Chinese-born principal, joined her for her return engagement, and Mira Nadon, who recently became City Ballet's first female Asian-American principal, was brought on for the official commission. "There started to be this kind of mirroring and reflecting that I enjoyed seeing. I think that's the thing, that it's not for everyone to get," Jinakunwiphat explains. "That's just something that was important to me, for them to see each other and mirror each other in ways."

With A.I.M, Jinakunwiphat's work tends in a more contemporary direction, but she says that she was able to draw on her background in ballet for her latest creation. With the extra time she was given, a rarity in a company that performs dozens of dances a year, she was able to find a balance between her own style and City Ballet's, which has expanded in recent years as new voices and perspectives have been brought into the theater. "I always want the dancers to feel comfortable and that they can be themselves, letting them put that guard down a bit and not be afraid to explore," she says. "That was something that was really important to me, just bringing myself to it and not necessarily feeling pressured to make a 'ballet' ballet, but make something with ballet dancers with still, of course, respect for the art form. It was important for me to stay true to myself."

Read this story and many more in print by ordering our sixth issue here.

As a nonprofit arts and culture publication dedicated to educating, inspiring, and uplifting creatives, Cero Magazine depends on your donations to create stories like these. Please support our work here.

All clothing by Hermès. Ring by Mejuri.

All clothing by Hermès. Ring by Mejuri.

Hair by Rebekah Calo. Makeup by Andrew Colvin at Saint Luke Artists. Photographer's assistants: Daniel van der Deen and Mae Stark. Stylist's assistant: Jane Bickford. Makeup artist's assistant: Zac Hart. Model: Jason Pettigrew at We Speak Model Management.

As a nonprofit arts and culture publication dedicated to educating, inspiring, and uplifting creatives, Cero Magazine depends on your donations to create stories like these. Please support our work here.