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Q&A: Edwaard Liang on 16/17 highlights and what’s to come for our 40th anniversary

Artistic Director Edwaard Liang is always on the go.

Between planning seasons, choreographing new works and sharing BalletMet with the world, Liang, who’s also an internationally known choreographer, has taken ballet to new heights in Columbus.

The 2016/17 season was no exception. Breathtaking world premieres, extraordinary collaborations and live music made this season one to celebrate and remember.

As Liang heads into a busy summer and prepares for an even busier 17/18 season, he shared his thoughts on the past year and what Columbus audiences should expect as BalletMet looks towards its 40th anniversary.

This season featured a lot of ground-breaking works. Dancers were soaring above stage in Peter Pan and moving through water in your work, Airavata, for Art in Motion. What were some of your favorite moments in the theater this season?

I really loved this season. I loved seeing [Balanchine’s] Serenade at the Ohio Theatre. I loved being able to offer flying to my dancers and the community, as well as just an overall fun production of Peter Pan. I loved being able to present a Christopher Wheeldon work again. I loved that we all put our minds together and somehow managed to put water on stage. I would say my favorite part this season was Romeo and Juliet. That’s my favorite ballet, and it was really nice to be able to reach the next level of full-length productions with the production being so lush and operatic.

What about your favorite moments in the studio?

That’s a hard one because I really love being in the studio with the dancers and rehearsing. It’s almost like trying to pick your favorite food. I would say my favorite moment in the studio was working with the Romeos and Juliets, creating and changing the scenes for them. It felt like less of a choreography rehearsal and more of an actor’s seminar.

You put on six productions this season. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge had to be the logistical issues that were Twisted 2. To bring together three organizations, three different cultures, three different ways of scheduling and three different ways of managing people, it was definitely a challenge that we overcame by realizing we needed to bring as many people to the table as possible, but it was the three leaders who had to make the big decisions.

What I like about each season is that every program has its rewards and challenges. Every season I learn something new. I learn how to better serve the company and the dancers. It’s the fun of it. From sword fighting to flying to having musicians on stage, it’s all really interesting.

[image_with_animation image_url=”11839″ alignment=”center” animation=”None”]BalletMet Dance Academy students take the stage for the finale of “Twisted 2”, a collaboration between BalletMet, Columbus Symphony and Opera Columbus. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.
This season we also saw some of our favorite dancers retire. What’s in store for the company moving forward?

My wish and dream has been to create a company where the dancers are able to transition from contemporary to classical seamlessly while still having this hunger and desire to grow. I’m really excited about the dancers that are staying and are going to be with us next season. I’m also really excited about the new dancers that are coming. It’s kind of like a recipe. Every dancer, every part of this organization makes the cake. We’ll see how the dynamics of the new dancers elevate the company as a whole. Every year I’ve been really proud to raise the quality of productions and dancers, and that’s my continued goal—to keep raising the bar.

You’re currently getting ready for BalletMet’s 40th anniversary season. What do you hope builds from this past season into next?

I think we’re starting to whet the appetite for more lavish productions, and we’ll be able to facilitate that with [Dorothy and the Prince of] Oz. Hopefully we’ll be able to have live music again.

It’s been a while, but it hasn’t been that long since I’ve been a dancer, so I want to continue to trust my instincts of what dancers love and what the audiences like. I try to keep my ears and eyes open because that’s really my role—to make sure that I give the best and highest quality of productions while pushing the boundaries and opening the eyes of the community to more. That’s my job.

[image_with_animation image_url=”11838″ alignment=”” animation=”None”]Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s  acclaimed “18+1” returned to Columbus as part of the triple bill “Art in Motion.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.
BalletMet’s 40th season is packed with World and Company premieres. Which performances are you most excited for Columbus to see?

Two things: I’m really excited for Columbus to see Minus 16 by Ohad Naharin, and I’m really proud to introduce the first Forsythe work to Columbus. Of course I’m also excited for the Columbus audience to see [Dorothy and the Prince of] Oz because that’s been three years in the making.

Could you tell us a little more about Dorothy and the Prince of Oz?

It’s a brand new full-length that premiered in Tulsa this past February. It’s about the story of Dorothy being called back to Oz to help save two warring lands of Oz. It’s continuing the progression of full-lengths that I would like to continue to program in Columbus, whether it’s my work or other choreographers’ full-lengths. These types of full-lengths are the new generation of full-lengths, where they incorporate different technical aspects in production and projection. It really fits along with the model of what we [BalletMet] want to accomplish of being an innovator of dance and trying new ways to tell the story, a new story.

How do you plan on spending your summer? Any fun travel plans?

I’m choosing to work through this summer. I leave this week for Hong Kong for four days to talk at a dance symposium and have some meetings with some Asian presenters because I would love to some day bring BalletMet to Asia. Then I come back for a couple weeks, and I fly to the Dance/USA conference with [BalletMet Executive Director] Sue Porter. From Dance/USA I fly to Singapore to create a new work for Singapore Dance Theatre and then to Shanghai to have meetings for a full-length that I’m co-producing. After that I’m flying to San Francisco to create a new ballet, and I return two days before the season starts.Header Image: Edwaard Liang’s “Airavata” performed in the triple bill “Art in Motion.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.