Edwaard Liang. Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet.

Double Duty: Edwaard Liang Continues BalletMet's History of Directors Who Choreograph

This story originally appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of Pointe.
Newly appointed BalletMet Columbus artistic director Edwaard Liang says he didn't know he wanted the position until it fell into his lap. The 39-year-old internationally known choreographer had just returned from creating a work for Bolshoi Ballet's Svetlana Zakharova in Russia when he received an invitation from the BalletMet executive committee to apply. Though he was reluctant to interview at first, he was soon convinced to throw his hat into the ring, realizing that no matter the outcome, it would be a learning experience at the very least.

In July 2013 he became the Columbus, Ohio, ballet company's fifth artistic director, succeeding Gerard Charles, who is now a ballet master at Joffrey Ballet. Founded in 1978, BalletMet has a rich performance history showcasing a mix of classics (Balanchine and story ballets) along with a range of contemporary works from choreographers such as James Kudelka, Stanton Welch and Doug Varone. The dual role of artistic director as company choreographer, embraced by all of its previous directors, most notably John McFall and David Nixon, was an exciting prospect for Liang in accepting the directorship. “I think that a ballet company that has an artistic director who choreographs sets it apart from others," says Liang. “It has its own strategic voice and vision."

Born in Taiwan and raised in California, Liang danced as a soloist with New York City Ballet and later as a member of Nederlands Dans Theater 1, where he launched his choreographic career in 2003 at a company workshop. In 2004 he was invited back to NYCB and participated in Peter Martins' New York Choreographic Institute. He has since created ballets for some of the world's top companies, including Immortal Belovedfor Mariinsky Ballet, Age of Innocence for Joffrey Ballet and Symphonic Dances for San Francisco Ballet.

Ling working with the companyJennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet

Liang credits his work as a freelance choreographer for preparing him for his post at BalletMet, noting how it taught him to manage people and time, understand contracts and get the most out of dancer talent. The biggest challenge so far? A heavy workload that includes directing, choreographing and administrative and fundraising duties. On top of it all, he's managed to keep up with freelance opportunities, such as the creation of Murmuration for Houston Ballet in 2013 and upcoming projects with Kansas City Ballet, Tulsa Ballet and Cincinnati Ballet.

Liang's vision for BalletMet is for it to become a top boutique ballet company. “I am hoping to increase our visibility and be among the leaders in our range and size," he says. But to realize those goals, Liang feels the repertoire needs to rival that of the world's big name ballet companies. That's where his wealth of choreographer friends, like Christopher Wheeldon and Gustavo Ramirez Sansano—both of whose works were part of Liang's first planned program at BalletMet—will help in building a refreshed repertoire. But he's not parting ways with the company's more classical works. March 2015 will mark the world premiere of Liang's full-length Cinderella. “I want to create a clean, no frills sort of production to welcome the community to more classical ballet."

To up the quality of the unranked company and ensure it's suited to the new repertoire, Liang added seven members for a total roster of 26 this season. Altogether, they're a group of dancers who he says “hunger for innovation, inspiration and love and are humble to their craft."

Dancer Gabriel Gaffney Smith, now in his seventh season with the company, is one of those. He sees Liang as a leader with great poise and a clear vision of what he wants as a choreographer and as a director, saying he continues to promote a family-like atmosphere. “The dancers are made to feel they are in a two-way conversation during the creative process," says Smith. “He pushes you outside your boundaries so that they keep expanding."

Liang is just beginning to put into effect the changes he sees for the organization. Beyond the roster and repertoire retooling, he launched second company BalletMet 2 in 2014 to serve as both a community outreach vehicle and as a feeder to the main company. Also on tap are continued collaborative relationships with the Columbus Symphony, which, along with Opera Columbus, was a part of last September's Twisted: a Trio of Excellence; co-productions with Cincinnati Ballet and Tulsa Ballet; and touring opportunities. Under Liang's vision, it seems as though the company's reach will be ever expanding.

BalletMet Columbus at a Glance

Number of dancers: 26 in main company

Length of contract: 36 weeks

Starting salary: Follows AGMA standards

Performances per year: 55-60

Audition Advice

Open auditions are held during January and February in Columbus, New York, Chicago and San Francisco for females 5' 7'' and under and males 5' 8'' and taller. Aside from delighting in technically versatile dancers who aren't afraid to attack choreography, Liang is drawn to those who are "bold enough to go the front," he says. "Let yourself be seen. Try to enjoy the process of auditioning, and all of that will come through."

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Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

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Pacific Northwest Ballet's Angelica Generosa Shares Her Classic, Comfy Style In and Out of the Studio

"I love the feeling and look of effortless fashion," says Angelica Generosa. Preferring a classic style, the Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist keeps her wardrobe stocked with blazers. But they serve a practical purpose, too. "It tends to get chilly in Seattle, so it's the perfect accessory for layering," Generosa explains.

She's also quite fond of designer handbags. "They're my go-to accessory, and they're also my weakness when shopping," she says, naming Chloé, Chanel and Dior as some of her favorite brands. "I really appreciate the craftsmanship it takes to produce one—they're so beautiful and each has its own story, in a way."

In the studio, Generosa prioritizes comfort, and she'll change up her look depending on the repertoire (leotards and tutus for classical works, breathable shirts with workout pants for contemporary). But she always arrives to work in style. "I really love putting together outfits for even just going to the studio," she says. "It's another way of expressing my mood and what kind of vibe I'm going for that day."

The Details: Street

Angelica Generosa, wearing a blue blazer, white blouse and gray jeans, is photographed from underneath as she walks and looks to the right.

Quinn Wharton

BCBG blazer: "It has some shoulder pads and a really cool pattern," says Generosa. "It reminds me of my mom and '80s fashion."

Zara blouse: She incorporate neutrals, like this white satin button-up, to balance bright pops of colors.

Angelica Generosa looks off to her right in front of a glass-windowed building. She wears a blue blazer, white blouse, gray jeans and carries a small green handbag.

Quinn Wharton

Madewell jeans: Comfort is a major factor for Generosa, who gets her fashion inspiration from her mom, friends and people she comes across day to day.

Chloé bag: "I tend to have smaller purses because I'm quite small. Bigger bags overwhelm me sometimes—unless it's my dance bag, of course!"

The Details: Studio

Angleica Generosa, wearing a blue tank leotard, black wool leggings and pink pointe shoes, balances in a lunge on pointe with her left leg in front, facing a wall of windows.

Quinn Wharton

Label Dancewear leotard: "This was designed by my good friend Elizabeth Murphy, a principal dancer here at PNB. Her leotards always fit me really well."

Mirella leggings: "I get cold easily," says Generosa, who wears leggings and vests to stay warm throughout the day.

Angelica Generosa, wearing a blue tank leotard, black wool tights and pink pointe shoes, jumps and crosses her right foot over her left shin while lifting her arms up to the right.

Quinn Wharton

Freed of London pointe shoes: "When sewing them, I crisscross my elastics and use an elasticized ribbon from Body Wrappers," which helps alleviate Achilles tendon issues, she says. She then trims the satin off of the tip of the shoe. "Then I bend the shank a bit to loosen it up and cut a bit off where my arch is."

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This New "Nutcracker" Competition Wants Your Dance Studio to be Part of a Virtual Collaboration

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

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