I talked with Edwaard Liang in the Tulsa Ballet studios a few weeks before the premiere of his “Romeo and Juliet.” Much of what he shared can be read in my Urban Tulsa story. Here are a few more of his thoughts from our interview about the process of creating his first evening-length ballet.
This was a balancing act. I had to write down what my goals were and bulletpoint where I wanted to go with this story. I talked to a bunch of director friends in New York and got some advice, but everyone has a different take on Romeo and Juliet. It’s a very straightforward play, but everyone has their own version of it. For me, because I come from New York City Ballet, music really comes first. So I sat down with a friend who teaches composition at Juiliard, and we went through the score. She taught me a lot about how Prokofiev composed it – for instance, Mercutio’s death is ABABBC – so I made markings about how I might be able to cut it. With this production I had to be under 2 hours and 30 minutes, including intermissions, so I had to break down the score massively. The music is structured such that “this is the way it is.” But I had to think about, What is important to me, and what isn’t? What do I consider “fat”? If I were an audience member, where would I start to drift away?
I wanted to feel prepared mentally but not so much that I felt I wasn’t choreographing on the dancers. More than two hours of dancing, and I didn’t create one single step before I got here. It was scary, but I didn’t want to gyp them or myself. I knew the music well enough to structure out scenes, but I didn’t even create structures of people because things were still up in the air with regard to casting.
I didn’t see a video of how the set worked until a month before the premiere. I’m completely fascinated by it. It’s a lot of work and filling in holes, but I’m really glad we didn’t see the transitions until now. I didn’t want to rely on the set to tell me what to do. I want to use this set to do what I want to do.
Even though something might be clear in my mind, it needs to be clear in the audience’s mind too.
I really believe in creating my day. I was raised Buddhist and I’m really into spirituality. I believe in putting out there what you want. Just a couple weeks before Marcello asked me to do this, I was meditating and said, “I really would like to do a full-length ballet.”
But it’s not just about goals. It’s about how I want to show up.
There have been moments where my buttons have been pushed, and I haven’t responded the way I would have wanted to. Any time I didn’t show up the best I could, I was responsible. I sat in front of them and admitted I didn’t show up well enough, apologized for my mistakes, and moved on. It’s not the easiest thing to stand in front of your dancers and do that.
It’s eye-opening to show up as a collaborator. I always consider a commissioned choreographer to be basically hired help, and I’d like to keep it that way. It keeps me very grateful to work, period.
Through the laughter and the tears, for all of us, it’s been so rewarding to share this time with these people, to go through these emotions, to jump into these characters and just … figure it out. Whether it works or not, I can say that I gave it my all. I know that this particular experience is one I can never get back. I wanted to live it, feel it, every day.