Standing Ovations for Edwaard Liang at BalletMet

On October 22, I witnessed a smashing triple bill in Columbus, Ohio, that deserved its three standing ovations. The last and most immediate was for Edwaard Liang’s kinetically charged Murmuration, after which the whole audience sprang up to cheer this BalletMet premiere.

Edwaard Liang rehearsing BalletMet's dancers Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and Gabriel Gaffney Smith

Liang, now in his fourth year as artistic director of BalletMet, was a soloist at New York City Ballet before going to Nederlands Dans Theater, where he started choreographing. He labeled this three-part program “Night and Day.” The first two works were both familiar: Balanchine’s dreamy Serenade and Val Caniparoli’s energetic Lambarena, a blend of classical lines and funky West African contractions. They were danced beautifully by the 25-member company (though Tchaikovsky would be turning over in his grave if he heard the overly loud recording for Serenade), and part of the audience gave them standing ovations too, though not as wildly enthusiastic as for Liang's ballet.

Inspired by the patterns of migrating starlings, Murmuration (which was made for Houston Ballet in 2013), creates a force field that commands you to look. Ezio Bosso’s music surges thick and fast, then suddenly thins out, creating an ebb and flow edged with danger. The flocking of Liang’s choreography frames four pas de deux that are rife with inventive lifts punctuated by tender gestures. One person’s head pushes up beneath a partner’s relaxed hand. There’s an animal comfort, a need for closeness, among these magical, nomadic creatures.

Liang's Murmuration, photos by Jennifer Zmuda

But it’s not just this one piece, or the “Night and Day” program that deserves an ovation. According to critic Steve Sucato, with whom I chatted at the Ohio Theatre that night, Liang has raised the quality of the dancing and choreography at BalletMet, and the shows are sold out more often than before. Liang also launched BalletMet 2, drawing from the top students of the BalletMet Dance Academy, and has increased outreach efforts.

Liang has come a long way since we filmed this “Choreography in Focus” in 2011. At that time he was about to embark on his first full-length work, a Romeo and Juliet for Tulsa Ballet. This spring he will bring that fine production to BalletMet. And by the way, the opulent Ohio Theatre is just right for Shakespeare.

Another upside of BalletMet: From what I gather, there are many links between the ballet company and the excellent dance department at Ohio State University, also in Columbus. (This is not new. As Sucato has pointed out in our pages, BalletMet and OSU have collaborated in the past.) When I was in Columbus last weekend working with Bebe Miller, master teacher at OSU, I met several MFA grads who have become teachers or administrators at the ballet. These connections are the mark of a healthy dance community.

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