Taiwan-born US choreographer glad to be part of Singapore art scene

Edwaard Liang started ballet dancing at age five because his elder sister was taking classes.
Edwaard Liang started ballet dancing at age five because his elder sister was taking classes.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Choreographer Edwaard Liang is honoured to be working with the Singapore Dance Theatre for the fifth time

Taiwanese-born American choreographer Edwaard Liang enjoys working in Asia because he says "you feel that your work can be a part of something that's a part of you".

"I'm the first Chinese artistic director in the United States, but you don't see an article about that," says Liang, who is the artistic director of Ohio-based ballet company BalletMet.

The 42-year-old is in Singapore to choreograph a new contemporary work for Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT), titled 13th Heaven.

The roughly 25-minute item is part of the troupe's annual triple bill, Masterpiece In Motion, which takes place on July 7 and 8 at Esplanade Theatre.

The other items are the company premiere of ballet classic The Four Temperaments by American ballet master George Balanchine and a restaging of Paquita, based on the choreography of Russian ballet master Marius Petipa.

13th Heaven - which will be performed by 16 of the company's dancers - is about what Liang describes as "the source".

"We are all from different nationalities and cultures, but there is something that unifies us as a humanity - what we consider God, or spirit or nature. Even people who are not spiritual believe in a source energy," he says.

This theme was inspired by the music for the piece - a violin concerto composed by English composer Oliver Davis.

"I listened to the music and that's what it felt like to me. It tugs at the heartstrings. It's very pleasurable, it hurts so good," Liang says of his fifth work for SDT, whose title refers to the Aztec belief that there are 13 levels of heaven.

When he worked on his first piece for the company, it was still based at Fort Canning Centre. Its studios are now located at Bugis +.

He says: "This is where I started growing as a choreographer. It's nice to come back and see the company grow.

"It's an honour to work with a company that I have a special bond with."

Over the years, he has worked with renowned dance companies such as the New York City Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater.

He also danced in Broadway in 2001, in the Tony Award-winning production, Fosse, about the life of American dancer-choreographer Bob Fosse.

Liang started ballet at age five because his elder sister was taking classes. At the time, the family - his father had a shipping company and his mother was a university professor-turned-housewife - had just moved to California.

The two children also took horseback riding, violin and martial arts lessons on top of ballet classes.

Liang is growing out his dark locks to donate to a cause that makes wigs for cancer patients. This holds special meaning for him because his father died from cancer when he was 13. His mother lives in Taiwan.

Being in Singapore is also a chance for Liang to be closer to family - his sister and aunt live here - and to enjoy the food.

"How can anyone not miss the food?" he says with a laugh.

His sister sends him packets of chicken rice mix to cook when he is in the US, "but it's still not the same".

He says: "Singapore has a big soft spot in my heart. I love that I am a part of the voice of the growing arts in Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2017, with the headline 'Dancing in 13th heaven'. Print Edition | Subscribe