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This Choreographer Was One of the First to Make the Switch From Ballet to Broadway—Here's Why

Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, courtesy of BalletMet

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."

Music
Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

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Teachers Trending
Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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News
Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

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