Written by Jerril Nilson
Photography by Antonio Anacan
BalletMet Artistic Director Edwaard Liang spent 15 days in Eugene in early 2020, setting his emotionally and physically dynamic ballet, Age of Innocence, on the dancers of Eugene Ballet. Then, well, you know the rest of that story, dear reader. Now, on the other side of a two-year plus span in time, and weeks of Zoom-based rehearsals, Liang says with confidence that EB is ready.
Age of Innocence premiered in 2008, set on The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. Liang’s first “big work” was deemed “a newly minted masterpiece,” by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Liang was moved by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the stories that the great 19th century ballrooms (Bridgerton fans, am I right?) might tell. “I wanted to make a ballet about the strength and resilience of women. During that time, women had very little choice. What were the hopes and dreams of these women who were facing arranged marriages? Their happiness was never fully on them,” he explained.
A student of quantum physics, Liang considered that those ballroom walls could easily contain the emotions and energy of all those previously inhabiting the space. He wondered, “What would you pick up on? The stories, the pas de deux, the relationships, the collective consciousness, the potential to meet your partner for life, for good or bad?”
Principal Dancers Danielle Tolmie and Mark Tucker, cast in the ballet’s difficult pas de deux, say their experience with Liang has been expansive. “He is a beautiful dancer with a very clear vision and he wants that vision to be portrayed with as much integrity as we can,” Tolmie noted. “He’s not afraid to change things, making edits to suit the dancers in their roles. He says the ballet takes on a new life with every company.”
“It is one of the hardest pas de deux we have had the opportunity to perform,” Tolmie added. Tucker agreed. “It’s matching all of our skills, where we are in our careers. It’s challenging choreography, quiet and thoughtful, and that elevates us. We’re growing as artists because it is pushing us so much.”
Liang’s use of metaphor has been game changing for the dancers. “Liang has very clear metaphors. No matter how abstract everything is, he has purpose and meaning with each transition and with every step,” Tucker explained. “The tai chi section at the end uses a lot of metaphors, like a hand trailing in the water as you sit in a canoe, or time lapse photography of the universe.”
“Beautiful,” Tolmie said of the music selections from Thomas Newman and Philip Glass. “The pas de deux has a lot of cello with a lot emotion, it vibrates you right in your bones.” On the other hand, the movement featuring EB male dancers, is “pedal to the metal,” she explained.
As Lady Whisteldown might posture, dear reader, you don’t want to miss this ballet this weekend in the Heaven and Earth program. Liang added, “The artists of Eugene Ballet are going to blow your mind in their artistry, their dedication, and their commitment to this ballet and this whole program. So buckle your seatbelts, and thank you so much for coming back to the theater.”