DANCE; The Instant Choreographer

By JENNIFER DUNNING
Published: March 13, 2005

GEORGE BALANCHINE would probably have thought well of Edwaard Liang. ”Just do it,” Balanchine often told his dancers, well before Nike came up with the phrase. Mr. Liang, an elegant, quietly intense soloist with the New York City Ballet, has been just doing it for his entire 11-year career, to the point of learning to choreograph a ballet in a mere four days, complete with his own lighting and costume designs.

Mr. Liang, 29, began studying at the company school six years after Balanchine’s death. But Balanchine’s tenet has guided all of his life in dance, from his award-winning school days, to City Ballet, to a sabbatical during which he performed on Broadway and in modern dance and staged ballets. Now back at City Ballet, he is becoming known as a promising choreographer.

Last month Mr. Liang was named as a participant in City Ballet’s prestigious New York Choreographic Institute. On Tuesday, Peter Boal & Company will present Mr. Liang’s new ”Distant Cry,” a pas de deux to be performed by Mr. Boal and Wendy Whelan in a weeklong season at the Joyce Theater.

They play momentary lovers, Mr. Liang said. ”The whole idea is that Wendy is a spirit and a girl,” he said, describing Ms. Whelan’s rootless character in an apt summary of her own distinctive stage presence.”You don’t know where the piece ends and begins. It is a glimpse into a limbo.”

Mr. Liang began choreographing in 2003 in a workshop at the Nederlands Dans Theater 1, where he was performing. The piece, ”Flight of Angels,” was later performed by Configuration. That company also danced his second work, ”Mixed Nuts,” a group piece praised last month by Jack Anderson in The New York Times as a goofy romp that resembled ”a ballet performance by classically trained chimpanzees.” Mr. Liang has also choreographed for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. ”Distant Cry” is his fourth work.

Mr. Liang seems a grown-up version of the 14-year-old who bought a plane ticket and flew to New York from California to audition for the School of American Ballet, then managed to survive on his own until the school caught on.

He recalled a recent conversation with an administrator of the choreographic institute. People are asking for you, Mr. Liang was told. Peter Boal wants you. The institute is at the same time. Which do you want to do?

”Which do I want to do?” Mr. Liang echoed incredulously. ”I want to do both.” JENNIFER DUNNING