Long before switching from ballet to Broadway became de rigueur, Edwaard Liang shocked everyone by leaving New York City Ballet to join the Broadway cast of the musical Fosse. Eleven years later, he defied expectations again by taking over as BalletMet's artistic director—without putting his robust freelance choreography career on hold. Liang, it seems, doesn't pay much heed to the conventional approach to a dance career.
In his four years with BalletMet, Liang has sought to challenge his dancers with diverse repertory that goes far beyond the typical confines of classical and contemporary ballet. This month, to celebrate BalletMet's 40th anniversary, the company teamed up with Ohio State University's dance department and the Wexner Center for the Arts to offer a smorgasbord of dance styles: from William Forsythe's singular brand of leggy-brainy dance to Ohad Naharin's exuberant Minus 16, performed alongside OSU dance students. Here, he talks to DT about the effect his choices have had on his career.
On swapping ballet for Fosse "I left New York City Ballet for Broadway because this career is so short. I don't know if I would've ever been a principal, but I wanted to experience as much as I could in my career. This was 17 years ago—there was a definite boundary between ballet companies and Broadway. I think people were afraid for me. Dancers and people in the industry understand that Broadway is fickle. This was already a long-running show, and eventually it would close. Where would I go?"
On how he preps for a new piece—then vs. now "My first pas de deux I choreographed, I would overly prepare. What I realized is that a lot of things I came up with had a 50/50 chance of working. They'd wind up on the chopping block. I started changing my process. Now, 95 percent of the time, I don't have anything prepared in terms of steps or structure [before entering the studio]. I like the leap of faith. Some choreographers get really freaked out by a blank canvas. I view it as possibility."
Why freelance while holding down a full-time position? "The board and the community realized how important it is that they have an artistic director who is still relevant. Everywhere I go, BalletMet goes as well. It makes me keep the pulse of what's going on outside. I work with other choreographers and artistic directors and get new perspectives—and hopefully I'm able to bring some of that to Columbus, Ohio."