Historic new leader helms DC-themed ‘Nutcracker’ at Warner Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Nutcracker' at Warner Theatre (Part 1)

Are you looking for something festive to do in the nation’s capital with the family in town for the holidays?

The Washington Ballet stages “The Nutcracker” at Warner Theatre in D.C. now through Dec. 30 under historic new leadership.

“I’m beyond grateful that I have the opportunity to lead The Washington Ballet,” incoming Artistic Director Edwaard Liang told WTOP. “I watched and helped support ‘Such Sweet Thunder’ [in October] when I was announced to the D.C. public and that was a wonderful experience, but this is really the first production where I’ve had some rehearsals with the dancers and also with the tech and putting it on stage.”

Liang becomes the first person of color to lead The Washington Ballet and the first Asian American nationwide to lead a major American ballet company. He is currently in a transitional role, doing double duty as artistic director of BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, before officially taking over The Washington Ballet full time on May 1, 2024.

Edwaard Liang
Edwaard Liang is the new artistic director of The Washington Ballet. (Courtesy Tony Powell)

“I was born in Taiwan, raised in Northern California, then I moved when I was 13 to New York City by myself and went to the School of American Ballet,” Liang said. “I won this international ballet competition called the Prix de Lausanne and because of that I was accepted to the New York City Ballet between 16 and 17. … I danced on Broadway for the show ‘Fosse’ and Nederlands Dans Theater 1, which is a modern company based in the Netherlands. I’m so grateful that I’ve choreographed all around the world.”

While The Washington Ballet leadership is fresh, local audiences will still get Septime Weber’s same D.C.-themed version of Tchaikovsky’s classic.

“This is the 19th anniversary and next season will be the 20th anniversary of Septime Weber’s ‘Nutcracker,'” Liang said. “It’s a wonderful production that has humor, it is well timed, well paced and there’s a ton of incredible dancing, but what makes this production really, truly magical is that it has been absolutely accepted and embraced by the D.C. community. It’s clearly a Washingtonian ‘Nutcracker’ and belongs to the D.C. community. It’s the perfect production.”

Indeed, the show contains tons of D.C. visual references, including cameos by the Nationals’ Racing Presidents.

“Definitely a lot of historical presence in the different characters in Act 1, whether it’s George Washington or The Merry Widow,” Liang said. “There’s the presence of Georgetown, cherry blossoms, references to D.C. consistently through the whole production, so when you get swept away by the story, it still resonates with our community.”

Don’t worry, traditionalists will still see the original plot of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 short story.

“It’s a universal, timeless story of Clara going on a spectacular adventure because of the help of Drosselmeyer, who’s magical and livens this gift of The Nutcracker as her Christmas present,” Liang said. “The idea in all of these fables or children’s stories is that through this adventure, Clara is transformed and changed forever in inspiration, possibility, love and understanding — very similar to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ of how important it is to be back home.”

Best of all is Tchaikovsky’s musical score, which has become synonymous with the holidays.

“For a lot of ballet dancers, we’ve grown up with the music of ‘The Nutcracker,'” Liang said. “He is able to compose and tell the story through the music. Not only do you have the story that is told by dancing, but you can close your eyes and you can hear the story itself. What’s unique is he used this instrument that is not used very often, which is the celeste. … When people hear this music, I hope they think of coming to Washington Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker!'”

Find more information here.

Listen to our full conversation here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Nutcracker' at Warner Theatre (Part 2)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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