Prizm News / September 1, 2018 / By Erin McCalla
The artistic director for BalletMet in Columbus keeps things running at home while traveling the world as a top choreographer. Plus, he just added marriage to his repertoire.
By Erin McCalla
For Edwaard Liang, it’s all about balance—and not just the physical kind needed to forge a dance career that has included featured roles with the New York City Ballet and a stint in the Broadway production of “Fosse.”
As artistic director of Columbus’ BalletMet, Liang balances duties such as choreographing ballets, planning the performance season, and budgeting and managing dancers and staff. As a much-in-demand choreographer, he balances a schedule that includes travel around the country and world.
And as a newlywed whose husband works as an assistant high school principal, he balances all that work with a happy home life in Columbus. Liang describes husband John Kuijper as “one of my biggest supporters” and a tireless advocate for the ballet, but he cherishes the time they share outside all that.
When Liang isn’t working, the couple enjoy nice meals—he calls himself a “foodie”—gardening, spending time with their dog and renovating their new home in German Village.
“My partner loves projects and he loves gardening… and I now love gardening myself, and trees, and being able to nurture that part of our creativity.”
Liang’s mission and vision is to bring world-class art, artists and dance to Columbus, all while fostering creativity among his dancers, collaborating with other performance companies and showing the breadth of dance in each season’s lineup.
Dance observers say he’s succeeding. Dance International magazine credits him with “reinventing” BalletMet by raising the level of both artistry and technique. Others say Liang has refreshed the company’s repertoire.
He has been the artistic director in Columbus for five years, but his roots aren’t in the Midwest. Liang was born in Taiwan and moved to California’s Bay Area when he was 5 years old. At 13, he moved to New York to study dance at the School of American Ballet, and he stayed in New York for the next 25 years. Liang worked as a member of the corps de ballet and soloist at the New York City Ballet before moving on to Broadway, where he danced with Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking.
He also danced with the Nederlands Dans Theater and Norwegian National Ballet.
Liang accepted the job as artistic director of BalletMet, his first time in such a role, and says he’s working to put Columbus on the map in the world of ballet.
“It is a balancing act, especially for what I feel my job is. I want to try to bring the best that I can around the world to Columbus. I really feel like it’s my job to bring ballets that have changed the dance landscape and choreographers who are a part of that.”
It’s a challenge he says his company can handle.
“Because of the beautiful dancers I have at BalletMet, they have the ability to span completely modern to very classical ballets. And I think that it’s really important for BalletMet to show a breadth of what dance is.”
Liang is a choreographical artistic director, meaning he’s not only in charge of managing staff and dancers, budgets and planning each season, he also choreographs many of those performances, too. He choreographs for companies around world as well and says his travels inspire much of his choreography
This summer he traveled a little more than usual. After Ballet Met wrapped up its season in May, Liang flew to Hamburg, Germany, to work with the Hamburg Ballet on a new work. He then spent some time in New York and Los Angeles before traveling to Shanghai, where he’s working on a project in partnership with the Chinese government.
The trip also gave Liang a chance to travel to Tibet, where he met with the Dalai Lama’s top deputy.
After China, Liang and Kuijper traveled to San Francisco to get married at City Hall. They honeymooned in Sonoma.
When Liang speaks of Kuijper, his voice brightens. If Kuijper is Liang’s biggest fan, Liang also serves the same role for his husband.
“He’s an assistant principal. He was at South High School, but he’s now at Briggs. He is inspired by Columbus City Schools and urban teaching and administration. He really feels like he can do some good. He taught in the South Side of Chicago for 13 years, so he has a lot of experience,” Liang says. “He’s my biggest advocate here, and he’s one of my biggest supporters.”
Liang and Kuijper have been together eight years. They lived in Chicago’s Gold Coast before moving to Columbus for Liang’s job with BalletMet.
“Edwaard was forever traveling for his work internationally,” Kuijper says. “We chose Columbus so we could settle down, have a home with a garden and space for us to relax and entertain with our little pug, Spanky.”
Kuijper calls his husband both passionate and mission-driven, and he’s proud of Liang’s efforts to enrich the quality of BalletMet’s Dance Academy for children as young as 3.
“He embraces continual improvement,” Kuijper says, “and as an educator I’m always paying attention to those who lead not only by words but by example.”
When Liang chooses performances for the BalletMet season, it’s again all about balance. He looks for full-lengths that will invite family-friendly audiences, as well as programs that are cutting-edge.
“I’m super excited to bring Christopher Wheeldon and Justin Peck to Columbus. This will be Wheeldon’s third ballet at BalletMet, but ‘After the Rain’ is one of his masterpieces,” Liang says of the first installation of the 2018-19 BalletMet season, “Lineage: A Collection of Short Ballets.”
The triple-bill consists of Wheeldon’s “After the Rain,” Peck’s “In Creases,” and George Balanchine’s “Square Dance.” “After the Rain” debuted at the New York City Ballet in 2005 with Liang in one of the lead roles.
Peck’s piece premiered in 2012, when the choreographer was just 24 years old. He’s now the New York City Ballet’s resident choreographer and caused a stir in ballet circles last fall when he recast one of his pieces with two men in the central pas de deux.
“Justin Peck, I would say, is the golden boy of dance right now,” Liang says. “He just won a Tony Award, so in this program, we have two Tony Award- winning choreographers with ‘Square Dance’ by Balanchine, which is another masterpiece.”
BalletMet also will perform its yearly production of “The Nutcracker” in December, then “Don Quixote” and “Cinderella” before ending the season with a triple-bill of Liang’s short ballets—titled, “By Liang,”—in late May.
“The season is spanning longer than we ever have. We are also going to do the arts festival in June,” Liang says. “We have never had a triple-bill or program in the end of May, so I really want to test out the market in Columbus and hopefully we can do more summer programs and festivals so I can provide more weeks of work for the dancers and the company. That also means I can bring more dance to Columbus in the summertime.”
Collaborating with other performing arts companies is something Liang loves. The company is working with Shadowbox, a Columbus performance troupe, for Liang’s short ballet, “Wunderland,” and there are talks of doing a third installation of “Twisted,” a performance with the Columbus Symphony and Opera Columbus that began in 2014 and had a sequel in 2016.
In his five years with BalletMet, Liang says he has learned that the trajectory of reward for an artistic director is different than that of a dancer or choreographer.
“Choreographers, within a couple of months or weeks, are able to see the fruits of their labor. Dancers are the same way; every day they see growth or a challenge when they get to perform new ballets. But an artistic director’s arc in their career is very different, and that was new. It’s been much longer,” Liang says.
“In these past five years, I’m just starting to see the fruits of my labor and the development of the artists and of the company and how our branding efforts have changed. We’re revitalizing BalletMet’s name, not onlyinColumbus,butnationally.We want to be known and be a part of the dance landscape, and hopefully be celebrated one day.”
Because of Liang’s background as a dancer and choreographer, he tries to encourage his own dancers to create and choreograph.
“I’m still trying to find different platforms for our dancers to be creative and support them in their journey,” he says. That’s definitely on the horizon for me. It takes time to program and develop and make sure that you do things with integrity. I’m hoping to push more. I think that it’s still more of a desire than an actuality, but it’s coming.”
It’s all part of the balance.
Erin McCalla is a freelance writer from Columbus, and her favorite ballet is “Giselle.”
FIND OUT MORE
To learn more about Edwaard Liang and his career, visit edwaardliang.com. You also can follow him on Instagram @edwaardliang. Find BalletMet’s YouTube channel and do a search on YouTube for Edwaard Liang to see interviews and videos of his dancing and choreography.
BalletMet will celebrate its 45th year in 2019. Visit balletmet.org for information about the 2018-19 season.