Gold petals flutter to the floor in Christopher Wheeldon’s Fool’s Paradise. A shower of confetti hovers over the dancers in Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s 18+1.
So it seemed only right to Edwaard Liang that his new work, performed alongside those of Wheeldon and Sansano during Art in Motion, should have an element of sorts. His choice? Water.
Airavata, a World Premiere by Liang, BalletMet artistic director (and acclaimed choreographer), puts dancers under a rain of water as it weaves a post-apocalyptic tale.
“I really wanted to spoil myself with this ballet in terms of having the ability to experiment and not have to choreograph as an artistic director but choreograph as an artist,” Liang says. “I’ve always wanted to do a ballet in water, and I thought it was the right time.”
Michael Sayre, BalletMet company dancer, performs as the central character in Airavata—and so spends plenty of time in water.
“I think working with the water is really cool and unique,” Sayre says. “It feels special.”
Technically, Sayre and Liang both say the challenges are obvious: the water is cold and often slippery, but it makes for a more raw and authentic experience.
“It creates moment-to-moment decisions our artists have to make instead of it being systematic,” Liang says. “Another challenge is not understanding exactly what it’s going to look like and having to guess how we’re going to light it, what it’s going to sound like… It’s unpredictable—just like the elements.”
The rain begins to fall at a central point in the work. Sayre’s character, Airavata (meaning “child of water”), acts as a catalyst for change among a group of primal beings, thirsty for water. As the rain comes, those beings become more self-aware.
“They have a moment of reflection,” Sayre says, “From there, they’re able to start exploring a more human interaction.”
The work, which is set to music by composer and BalletMet company dancer Gabriel Gaffney Smith, explores themes of unity, humanity and healing.
“I wanted to challenge the audience and myself on edgier concepts,” Liang says. “That’s the beauty of these triple bills… We’re able to tell stories that are more relevant and intense.”
Liang tips his hat to the Columbus Performing Arts Prize, issued by the Columbus Foundation, for underwriting Airavata and allowing him to create such an ambitious work.