Medhi Walerski became Artistic Director of Ballet BC in July 2020. Taking over a dance company during a pandemic was a challenge, but Walerski rose to it. He devised a choreographic initiative for the dancers and Artists in Residence that allowed them to create their own work, and put together a full digital production from start to finish. Take Form streamed February 25, 2021, debuting nine new choreographic works.
Several of these pieces have received international recognition. Justin Rapaport’s Passing By is one of the top ten finalists for the Copenhagen International Choreography Competition. Kirsten Wicklund’s Overcast, and Jacob Williams’ Semble, have each been nominated for the International Choreographic Competition Hannover.
I met with Medhi to find out why he decided to do Take Form this season, and how he feels about the results.
What led to the decision to do a choreographic initiative with the dancers this season?
The idea of offering a platform that supports the dancers creating germinated way back. It has always been a priority to me, and this season we had to adapt to constant changes. On a daily basis, almost. We did not know what the next day would bring. With all the restrictions in place, I knew that it was the perfect time to get the ball rolling and cultivate creativity in-house. It was about turning all the challenges into opportunities. It was about artistic development. I knew we were tight with time, but I had no doubt that the dancers would step up to the challenge, and they did with so much dedication and beautiful artistry.
How did your involvement in the creative process differ from regular Ballet BC programming?
It was very different from a curatorial point of view. Take Form is an open space with equal opportunities — I was not involved in choosing who gets to do what. The dancers had carte blanche and they completely took the lead. It was incredible to witness how they did that. Ballet BC provided the time, space, stage, and all the resources to facilitate their creative processes. The team and I were there to offer support and guidance if needed, and to make sure that the structure supported their needs and allowed them to be completely free. We also had Peter Smida, our Creative Content Producer, who did an outstanding job capturing each piece, and editing a beautiful digital performance. In a world that seems more polarized than ever, everyone really worked together as a team, and this unity brought us a lot of strength with which to move forward with the rest of the season.
How do you feel about the public engagement that Take Form received? Was it more or less than you anticipated?
I had no expectations. My focus was not on the outcome, but on the process. Knowing that the public reacted well is of course incredible. We had more than 1000 people tune in for a single evening from all over the world, which is pretty amazing. When you know how much work it takes to create an evening like that it is rewarding to feel that the public enjoyed what the company presented. It’s also been overwhelming to witness all of the support we received before, during, and after.
What was your reaction when you heard about Justin, Kirsten and Jacob’s nominations?
I was thrilled for them, of course, because they have a chance to show their works. Although, I’m not a fan of the idea of competing, especially with art, because it does not validate whether or not you should create. I can see the opportunity that it offers. It’s a wonderful way for them to gain exposure, have the chance to build their choreographic careers, and connect with the international dance scene. It’s also a great reminder that space, time, resources, and the freedom to create, express yourself, is what art needs, regardless of the scope of the performance.
Do you intend to continue this type of initiative in future seasons? If so, how do you see it evolving?
Yes, absolutely. Nurturing artists and future leaders is a priority to me. After witnessing the impact that Take Form had on the organization as a whole, I’ve been thinking about how it could become a part of the season planning. There are many ways for it to evolve, and I’m curious to hear directly from the dancers where they see this event going. I would imagine that having more time and resources would make the creative process smoother and easier. The scope of Take Form is huge. And who knows where it will go in the future? I will just say, watch the space.
By Kristen Lawson, Ballet BC Marketing Coordinator
Support for this interview series is generously provided by ZLC Financial