Feature: ON STAGE at Davidson Theatre

BalletMet pushing the envelope of dance in season opener

By: Oct. 02, 2023
Feature: ON STAGE at Davidson Theatre

Feature: ON STAGE at Davidson Theatre

As BalletMet prepares to open its season with ON STAGE Oct. 13-21 at the Davidson Theatre (77 S. High Street in the Riffe Center), artistic director Edwaard Liang has everything he needs.

Everything except shoe space.

BalletMet will present three shows, Twyla Tharp’s NINE SINATRA SONGS, Justin Peck’s THE TIMES ARE RACING and Ulysses Dove’s VESPERS. These shows, which are making their Columbus debut, forgo the traditional ballet shoe. NINE SINATRA SONGS uses ball room shoes. VESPERS is performed barefoot. And THE TIMES ARE RACING is presented in street shoes.

“We’re bringing the idea that ballet does not mean tutus and pointe shoes,” said Liang whose company had to order 80 pairs of Van shoes for the show. “Ballet means dance. I’m so excited because each one of these ballets is so different and expresses a different story.”

 BalletMet sent several shoes out to a cobbler to have new soles and suede added on them so dancers wouldn’t slip or turn their ankles.

“My fearless, incredible dancers have never had to change so many shoes for a program in their lives,” Liang said. “At the first rehearsal for THE TIMES ARE RACING, they were just laughing at each other because they felt a little awkward performing in street shoes.”

Tharp’s NINE SINATRA SONGS is, according to Liang, “the perfect way to bring people back into the theater.” Tharp chose nine songs by Ol’ Blue Eyes to represent stages of love.

Tharp has mixed ballet with a single artist before. In 2002, her ballet MOVING OUT focused on the music of Billy Joel. Tharp invited Liang to a workshop for that show, but he had to decline because he was touring Europe with another production.

“(NINE’s) really a celebration of that genre of music,” Liang added. “Twyla is a genius, and this is one of her main masterpieces.”

The second part of ON STAGE focuses on Dove’s VESPERS, which mirrors the choreographer’s experience with his aunt’s church. In it, six women leap over straight back chairs and perform athletic dance feats during the show.

“When you combine these drumbeats and the dancing of these six women, it’s a powerful ballet of storytelling,” Liang said.

Finally, the show closes with Peck’s THE TIMES ARE RACING. Liang filmed the run throughs of the show and sent it to Peck. Peck responded on how committed the dancers were to the material.

Liang hopes the audience will mirror Peck’s gratitude.

“I decided to close with THE TIMES ARE RACING because that ballet is such a joyride,” Liang said. “I want the audience to leave with a pep in their step and to tap their feet all the way out of the theater.”

For the last 10 years, Liang has worked to change “the repertoire of the BalletMet.” The artistic director has made major renovations to the company’s dance center, invited choreographers from around the world to perform new works here in Columbus and expanded the Academy training program.

Born in Taiwan, Liang was five years old when his parents Kimberly and Ping Liang moved the family to Northern California. As a way of getting her children acclimated to their new surroundings, his mother tried to interest Liang and his sister Victoria in everything from karate to piano to horseback riding to violin.

Dance was just one of the things he fell in love with. At 13, Liang started to do ballet and eventually moved east to join the New York City Ballet. He was part of FOSSE, a tribute to choreographer Bob Fosse, and then moved to Europe to become a part of the Netherlands Dance Theatre. When he finished his ballet career, Liang moved into choreography and had works performed around the world before taking over as artistic director of BalletMet.

“Dance, to me, is the ultimate communicator,” Liang said. “It’s body language amplified. When words fail, dance comes in to express humanity and storytelling that is beyond words.”

Photo credit:  Jennifer Zmuda

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