Edwaard Liang is one of the ballet world’s choreographers du jour. His work appears in the repertoires of The Joffrey Ballet, Kirov Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, among other top companies. But until now, the former New York City Ballet dancer has only created short abstract contemporary pieces. He’ll test his classical full-length mettle next month with a brand new Romeo and Juliet for Tulsa Ballet. We checked in with him to see how rehearsals are going.

 

How is creating a full-length uniquely challenging?

My ballets always have stories, but most of the time it’s just in my mind—I don’t really tell the audience, they can find their own way. In this realm, everyone knows the story, but I still have to tell it, and do so in a seamless way without skipping anything. The magic is that Prokofiev’s score tells everything. All I have to do is follow his genius.

 

What went through your head when Tulsa Ballet director Marcello Angelini first approached you about this project?

It’s a big risk for a director to ask a contemporary choreographer to do a pure, classical Romeo and Juliet. In the beginning, I think he had more belief in me than I had in myself. But once I got in the studio I just relied on really characterizing the dancers, making sure I told story and listened to the music. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s fun and fantastic.

 

How did it feel to work with the classical vocabulary?

It made me grow. These are the steps I trained in and grew up with. It was fun to create the variations, the group dances, the village dances—they’re so different from what I’m used to.

 

What about the sword fight scenes?

I choreographed those together with master sword fighter Steve White. I trained with him in New York for six months off and on beforehand to learn the basics so that I could understand it with my body. In Tulsa, I gave the trafficking, he built in the fight choreography, then I tweaked that and came up with steps.

 

In your opinion, what makes Romeo and Juliet so suited to ballet?

You’re not having to fall in love with a swan queen who’s half bird, half human, you’re not a weird peasant who turns into a ghost. It’s clearly about humanity—human emotions and relationships. It’s a universal love story.

 

Tulsa Ballet performs Liang’s Romeo and Juliet February 10–12 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. For more info and tickets, visit tulsaballet.org.

 

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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