Mr. Liang Comes to Washington

In 2017, Edwaard* Liang was invited to co-choreograph a ballet to open the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the following January. “They like to start their forum with art,” he explained, speaking at The Georgetowner’s May 16 Cultural Leadership Breakfast at Evermay.

“That cemented my idea of how powerful the arts can be, and how necessary.”

Named artistic director of the Washington Ballet last fall, Liang put his ideas into practice leading BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio. Over 11 seasons, starting in 2023, he diversified the company, expanded its training program and academy and spearheaded collaborations with the Columbus Symphony and Opera Columbus.

The heart of any city is the arts, he told breakfast attendees. “It’s the pulse, it’s the vibration.”

Much earlier, as a Taipei-born, Marin County-raised boy of 13 who was “adopted” by New York’s School of American Ballet after his father died, he had personally experienced the power of the arts. “Ballet,” he said, “taught me grit, tenacity and how the arts can be a home for individuals.”

The Washington Ballet’s fourth artistic director — following Mary Day, who co-founded the school in 1944 and ran TWB as a professional company from 1976 to 1999; Septime Webre, artistic director from 1999 to 2016; and Julie Kent, from 2016 to 2023 — Liang said his job is to understand what will “touch and inspire D.C.”

Liang became an innovative freelance choreographer — thus the Davos gig — after dancing with New York City Ballet as a soloist, with Nederlands Dans Theater 1 in the Hague and on Broadway in “Fosse.” Among the companies in the U.S. and abroad that commissioned works from him was the Washington Ballet, at Webre’s invitation.

TWB dancer Maki Onuki and ex-dancer, now staffer, Tamás Krizsa, a married couple, fell in love while dancing one of his ballets, Liang noted proudly. (Coincidentally, Onuki and Krizsa wed at Evermay.) Recalling the time spent living in what had been Day’s basement and engaging in extended conversations with Webre in his office upstairs, he commented that it was “weird” to be back in that office as artistic director.

Describing his approach, Liang used terms such as “access points,” “different voices” and “diverse repertoire.” To “help Washington Ballet separate itself from the pack,” programs will feature the “different types of dance that I’m passionate about”: classical and neoclassical ballet, but also modern and contemporary dance.

A case in point, this coming weekend in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, is “Beyond Boundaries: An Evening Curated by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa” (“not a rising star any longer … a star,” he said of Ochoa). The program’s “mixed rep” comprises three ballets, choreographed by Ochoa, Chanel DaSilva and Houston Thomas.

Liang then walked attendees through his inaugural season of 2024-25, which opens at Wolf Trap on Sept. 5. The one-night-only program: George Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto”; a world-premiere preview by New York-based Arch Dance Company’s Jennifer Archibald, an Alvin Ailey School graduate with “a hip-hop background”; and Liang’s own “Murmuration,” inspired by starling flight patterns (watch for falling feathers).

“Stravinsky Violin Concerto” and “Murmuration” will be performed in D.C. at the Warner Theatre on Oct. 24 to 27, along with Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s “18 + 1,” set to music by “King of the Mambo” Pérez Prado.

Also at the Warner: 35 performances of “The Nutcracker,” marking the 20th anniversary of Webre’s Washington-themed production. A program in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, featuring the complete Archibald premiere, will follow in February. Then, in April, Liang’s full-length “ALICE (in wonderland)” will conclude the 2024-25 season at Capital One Hall in Tysons.

Still excited to be creating new works, Liang — who choreographed 21 dances for BalletMet — spoke about a collaboration-in-progress with composer Blake Neely. In the site-specific piece, the dancers and chorus, “all in street clothes,” will interact with the audience (the word “corral” was used) in the tunnels of Dupont Underground on the way to the seated performances in the theater, set for Oct. 3 to 5.

Responding to a multipronged question about D.C., Georgetown and ballet, Liang called German Village, the neighborhood where he and his educator husband lived in Columbus, a “sister community to Georgetown,” given its historic, walkable character. “I love that about Georgetown, I love that about dance,” he said. “So much contact.”

* A Buddhist monk proposed the extra a in Edwaard when Liang was an infant.


Edwaard Liang of the Washington Ballet speaks at The Georgetowner and Evermay’s latest Cultural Leadership Breakfast. Photo by Robert Devaney.











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