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Classical 101

BalletMet performs short ballet ‘gems’ inspired by classical music

BalletMet dancers form a human pyramid-like structure in a rehearsal for Director's Choice: A Collection of Short Ballets
Jennifer Zmuda
BalletMet rehearses for Director's Choice: A Collection of Short Ballets

Fancy footwork might be the main attraction for many ballets. But three phenomenal works of classical music are the stars of BalletMet’s current production, Director’s Choice: A Collection of Short Ballets.

“The main premise of this whole program is beautiful music,” said Edwaard Liang, artistic director of BalletMet.

Director’s Choice features the BalletMet debut of George Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. One of the most important choreographers of the 20th century, Balanchine was also the founder and long-term artistic director of the New York City Ballet. The Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux shares the marquee with works by two former New York City Ballet dancers and Balanchine protégés – Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain Pas de Deux and Liang’s Seasons, in its first performances.

Balanchine is known for having created ballets to some of the most important works of classical music. Liang says music is also especially important to him and to Wheeldon.

“Both Christopher Wheeldon and I come from the house of Balanchine and (dancer/choreographer) Jerome Robbins, and we always think of music first,” Liang said. “And (with Director’s Choice) you have a program with Arvo Pärt, Tchaikovsky and Max Richter’s recomposed Four Seasons. All of the pieces, I think, are just beautiful pieces of music.”

Liang’s Seasons was inspired by Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons. Richter’s landmark recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons puts a contemporary spin on the baroque masterpiece, which is reharmonized, phased and presented with strings and ambient electric keyboard sounds.

“I really feel and believe that what (Richter) has created keeps the potent essence and the impact of The Four Seasons, but it makes it even more layered, it makes it even more inviting,” Liang said.

One of contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s best-known works, Mirror in the Mirror (Spiegel im Spiegel), sets a contemplative tone for Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain Pas de Deux.

Spiegel im Spiegel just goes straight to your soul,” said Liang.

Since its premiere by the New York City Ballet in 2005, Wheldon’s After the Rain Pas de Deux has been performed by major ballet companies around the world.

“It really aligns to the mission and our vision of BalletMet, (which) is bring world-class dance to Columbus, Ohio,” Liang said.

In their dependence on great works of classical music and in their broader conception, both Wheeldon’s After the Rain Pas de Deux and Liang’s Seasons owe a debt to Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. Balanchine’s work, Liang says, unites for expansive phrasing and jaw-dropping athleticism.

“It really takes a certain caliber of dancer to be able to perform this piece,” Liang said. “This piece is all about being able to showcase the quality, the pyrotechnics and the technique of a bravura artist and dancer. It is one of these epic sprints that most dancers really need to prepare for, because the minute that you go on stage, it is non-stop action.”

After performances of three full-length repertory ballets on BalletMet’s 2021-22 season, Director’s Choice: A Collection of Short Ballets marks the company’s return to the mixed-rep ballets that, Liang says, are “the gems of every ballet company.”

“I consider them a passport around the world,” Liang said. “It’s like going into the theater and taking a journey with the ballet.”

BalletMet performs Director’s Choice: A Collection of Short Ballets Thurs., May 26 – Sat., May 28 at the Davidson Theatre in the Verne Riffe Center for Government and the Arts. Tickets and information are available here.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.