News & Politics

Politics and Ballet? Catching Up With the Washington Ballet’s New Artistic Director.

Edwaard Liang talks about his new gig.

Photograph by Tony Powell.

This spring, the Washington Ballet will welcome its new artistic director, Edwaard Liang, a highly regarded choreographer who has created works for many of the world’s major ballet companies. What does he hope to bring to DC’s most prominent ballet institution? We recently called him up to get acquainted.

These days it can feel like the world is on fire. What do you see as the role of dance right now?

I have been thinking about this lately. There are always going to be turbulent times. When you look at history, where it seems like the world is on fire—that’s where artists and art really step forward. To not only entertain but also to touch, move, and inspire. And to reflect our humanity back. When the world is most difficult, that’s when art is most essential.

Does your Chinese American identity impact your work as a ballet-­company leader?

I’m the first Asian American artistic director of a ballet company of this size. I think that representation is very powerful for our industry, and part of how dance is changing. And it absolutely impacts my craft and how I lead because who I am is a culmination of my experiences. Not just being genetically Chinese but how I was raised by two Chinese immigrant parents, my culture, history, and sense memory.

Edwaard Liang with dancers from a past performance. Photograph of Liang by Xmbphotography.

What do you think is the relationship between dance and politics?

I really don’t know that answer, and I’m excited to learn. I was commissioned to choreograph a ballet for the opening concert at Davos some years ago. [Conference organizers] felt if these world leaders could be inspired by performance, they would make inspired choices. So from the vantage point of where I’m at and just slowly entering into the Washington ecosystem, that’s my answer.

What do you hope to bring to DC as an arts leader?

My charge is to bring the community into conversation with dance and art. And what I hope to accomplish is to make the Washington Ballet a unique company that has its own unique repertoire, complementary to the ecosystem at large. I have a perspective. But my charge is to bring what is going to catch, move, and inspire the community.

What are some dances that you’re most excited to bring to the area?

You know, a beautiful part of my job is that it’s trying to answer that question. I’m such a foodie. What is your favorite thing to eat? What I love about being artistic director is it’s not looking at one particular program or ballet. I love variety. It’s like a tasting menu of 20 courses.

This article appears in the February 2024 issue of Washingtonian.