Xuan Cheng and Taras Domitro by Jerry Qiu.
Xuan Cheng On Hong Kong Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet
In early December, we had the opportunity to catch up with Xuan Cheng, Principal Dancer and Ballet Mistress with Hong Kong Ballet(HKB) and Principal Dancer with Oregon Ballet Theatre, during her rehearsal process for HKB’s upcoming tour to New York City Center. She gave of some unique insights to this reimagined Romeo and Juliet, the early stages of the rehearsal process, and why she loves this iconic tale so much!
How has the rehearsal process been for you?
It’s challenging because my partner, Taras Domitro, was here for only three weeks. The day he got out of quarantine, I got Covid. So I had to quarantine for the first seven days of rehearsal! I was freaking out because I was like, ‘this guy is here to rehearse!’ He basically had to learn everything before he left – I felt so bad! But Taras is very fast and he said, ‘no worries’. Septime decided to teach Taras everything while I was quarantining and then we had about 3 days to work together during this trip. He’ll be back in a few weeks, though, and we will rehearse again in New York before the performances!
This is such a demanding ballet, especially for the men. As soon as the overture starts, the curtain goes up and a long solo for Romeo starts. This version is even harder because there is Kung Fu fighting instead of the traditional fencing. So by his death scene, he’s really dying!
It has been a really fun process though! Hong Kong Ballet created this production during Covid, so they had two years to really refine everything.
I didn’t realize this was a COVID creation!
Yes! It premiered in 2021. It was postponed twice so they had the time to refine everything and bring in real Kung Fu artists to teach the men… Like real Kung Fu artists!
And how is dancing this version of R & J for you?
So far, the Balcony Pas requires a lot of stamina for me and it is very, very technically demanding. But in general, it is feeling like the stamina required for Juliet is not too bad. The partnering is very intricate and there is a lot of bending and twisting. Again, I am thinking about how hard it is for Romeo and I try and help as much as I can knowing he has already done so much by the time we get to the Bedroom Pas de Deux!
How many versions have you danced of Juliet?
Just four; with Guangzhou Ballet, the James Canfield version with Oregon Ballet Theatre, Jean-Christophe Maillot’s, and now this version!
This R&J is a reimagined version. Do you feel like, dramatically, you go on the same journey when you dance Webre’s version?
Yes. Because it’s the same conflict. Juliette is still from a high-society family, and then she falls in love with someone that is not. There’s family conflict. So it’s very similar in how I approach my character. The structure is the same. Except in Septime’s piece, it’s more dancing. So it’s harder for us. Even the potion scene, usually you just act, but he adds movement. Instead of acting all of this, here you have to dance it.
I know that you love Romeo and Juliet. Why is this story so special to you and why do you connect to it?
The arc of the story, is amazing, it’s brilliant. She starts as a naive girl and falls in love for the first time. It’s just so dramatic in those two short hours. It makes me feel as an artist. That’s why I love ballet. I love performing story ballets so I get to experience the life of the character. Not just acting, but I actually get to communicate to the audience who this person is. I just love it and I feel that it is also a way to express my feelings.
You know, as a real person you might just be a certain way, but on stage you can go through all kinds of lives and be a totally different person than yourself. You have the option to be so extreme.
What are you most excited for when bringing this production to New York?
I’m happy because of my friends that I will get to dance for – both local New Yorkers and people traveling to see the performances. Also, I haven’t performed in New York for a while. The last time was with Barack Ballet in 2019.
It’s Romeo and Juliet, such a big production, and I feel like this Hong Kong version is so very special. I feel it’s a very good example of East meets the West. If you just go to see it with no knowledge of Hong Kong culture, you still get a Romeo and Juliet. But if you know Hong Kong, there is a little extra fun. Septime did a very good job adapting this story. You will see more than a typical Romeo and Julite; it’s definitely a feast for the eyes.
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