When dancers are asked what drew them to the profession, the answers are often related to a love of moving. Not so Edward Clug, whose ballet Radio and Juliet headlines WA Ballet’s annual outdoor Ballet at the Quarry season, according to The West Australian.It wasn’t my idea,” Romanian-born Clug says of his first foray into classical ballet at the age of 10.
“My father asked me ‘Would you like to audition for the ballet school in Cluj-Napoca (Romania’s second-biggest city)?’ I didn’t even hear the word ballet. I just liked the idea of going to the big city on my own!”
Clug’s audition was successful but the reality of life at a residential ballet school was, initially, a culture shock.
“When my parents left it was a disaster, but not for long,” he recalls.
“I was one amongst dozens of kids. You realise you can’t be the weakest one. That became my mission – not to show anyone my weakness.
“I found ballet quite funny and also painful at the beginning. I remember teachers always kicking me out of class because I was laughing at the things that we were asked to do.”
In addition, Clug was forced to abandon his much-loved hobby of skiing, an activity that was strictly forbidden by the school.
In spite of the challenges, ballet represented opportunity to Clug. It was the mid-1980s and Romania was still under communist rule. The possibility of escape from the regime was alluring, even to a child.
“After the winter holidays my father asked me ‘Do you want to go back or do you want to pursue skiing?’ I didn’t recall any Romanian champion skiers but I did recall many great Romanian ballet dancers who managed to escape the system and have wonderful careers in the West,” he says.
“It was the opportunity to leave the country more than the love of ballet that made me decide I had to get into one of the top ballet companies in Romania and on the first tour I would leave the country.”
By the time Clug finished his training Romania was no longer under communist rule. But by now ballet had won him over and so he remained committed to his original goals. Having followed his ballet teacher to Maribor, Slovenia, in 1991, he began auditioning for companies but was, in his own words, “pretty unsuccessful”.
In Maribor, however, he began to work in theatre under Tomaz Pandur, then the director of drama at the Slovene National Theatre Maribor.
“I worked with Tomaz first as a dancer and then a few years later as a choreographer. In 1996 I created my first piece for the company and since then my career in choreography has developed rapidly. Today I am invited to create works for the companies which did not accept me as a dancer 20 years ago,” he laughs.
Looking back over those 20-odd years, Clug sees his choreographic process as ongoing, with each work connected to the last.
“It’s not like you start each new piece from scratch, it’s more like luggage that you carry with you,” he reflects. “You open it, you go back . . . and you have to close it at the right moment,” he muses. “You unpack, pack, unpack, pack . . .”
In keeping with this theory, Radio and Juliet started life as a pas de deux that Clug created for a dance competition in Japan.
“Radio and Juliet began simply, with a duet to Radiohead’s Life in a Glasshouse from Amnesiac,” he says. “It won a bronze medal. One of the jury members told me that the duet reminded him of Romeo and Juliet. So I thought I should think about Radiohead and Romeo and Juliet.”
Clug’s decision to use Radiohead’s music for his interpretation of Romeo and Juliet was both about his personal connection to the music and his belief that the music connects with the narrative. “Some of the songs I could only listen to late at night when I was happy or depressed. They just put me back together.
“I was amazed by the associations the music has with the actual story. The songs match in a very unusual but very pleasant way – full of passion and melancholy at the same time.”
While the title of the work, Radio and Juliet, is a play on the origin of the score, it also provides a hint about the ballet’s focus. “It’s a retrospective, Juliet’s retrospective,” Clug says. “She is trying to find her way in this masculine universe of six guys.”
While there are clear links to the original story, there are twists to these. At the masquerade ball, for example, the characters wear surgery masks. Instead of poison there is a lemon – the sour taste of love.
Radio and Juliet will be performed with three other short works as part of the Ballet at the Quarry program, two of them by Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili. The first, The Sofa, is a comedy about three characters seated on that piece of furniture, and is set to the gritty sounds of Tom Waits. Galili’s second work, Mono Lisa, is more serious, exploring the workings of a push-me, pull-me relationship; a pas de deux accompanied by the clicks of a typewriter.