Ahead of Reveal + Tell, Ballet BC Marketing Coordinator Jamie Loh caught up with Artistic Director Medhi Walerski on set of our 22/23 photoshoot for a conversation about his new creation.
Jamie Loh: Hi Medhi! just BEFORE right AFTER is your first new creation as Ballet BC Artistic Director. How did it feel to be back creating for the stage?
Medhi Walerski: It’s something that I’ve been waiting for for a long time because the first creation we made for the Polygon Gallery last season was canceled due to COVID. It’s been amazing getting to connect with the dancers on a creative level and discovering their artistry. They are so good! We knew that we had a premiere in Luxembourg but there were so many unknowns. This drive that everyone had for creating and being together in the studio was fulfilling and exciting.
Jamie: How has your experience been so far collaborating with the 21/22 Ballet BC dancers?
Medhi: This new generation of dancers is many things. They are talented, generous, curious, unique, and really collaborative. Some of them are at the beginning of their professional careers, some are more experienced, which brings lots of diversity and a beautiful spirit in the room. I admire their versatility, and their ability to work as individuals while being part of a collective. It’s overwhelming sometimes to witness how they work together in the room. Really special.
Jamie: Why was it important to include all 19 dancers in just BEFORE right AFTER?
Medhi: I was excited to work with the entire company and dive into this process together. It was about nurturing a culture where everyone had a chance to have a voice and feel engaged. I wanted the entire company to feel that they were part of a creative journey, and I was curious to meet with all of them.
Jamie: You just returned from tours in both Luxembourg and LA. How was it? Why do you think touring is important for the company?
Medhi: It was great! Sharing art with others is essential. The more we share, the more we know, the better we understand differences and embrace them. For the company, touring allows the artists to get more opportunities to perform, and for the works to mature. It is also about staying connected with our audience abroad while contributing to building and sharing our community’s values and practices. International engagement is critical for the art. A singular perspective on what we do can be limiting. It is a complex topic today though, and we must look into finding new ways to tour.
Jamie: Can you share more about your creative process as a choreographer?
Medhi: The process starts usually with generating movement material and creating choreographic content. It is about building the foundations for the new piece. Generally I work simultaneously with the composer, the lighting designer, and the associate costume designer. And then it is about composition—the fun part, but also really challenging. This work took its final form when we were in Luxembourg, because having the time on stage allowed me to experiment with all the elements. And it did change quite a lot from what was originally planned.
Jamie: At what point in the process do you involve the dancers?
Medhi: I bring them in throughout. It’s a dialogue between what I create and what they create. And then it’s crafting, it’s shaping and it’s transforming. And it’s adapting to what the piece needs—it’s very much alive.
Jamie: Wow, that’s kind of like sculpting. You commissioned Belgian composer Adrien Cronet to create an original composition for just BEFORE right AFTER. How did this collaboration come about?
Medhi: Adrien and I met a few years ago. What I appreciate about him is that he’s an autodidact composer so there is something about what he creates that is unique, sensitive, and powerful. The starting point for this new composition was a pulse, a life force, a heartbeat. He usually sends a library of sounds, and then we just choose the ones that we like and create a cohesive sound environment. He keeps creating, and we reflect back, and we keep creating separately, and we reflect back. It’s a constantly evolving creative process.
Jamie: It took you a while to give this new creation a name. I’m interested in why it was so tough to describe this piece in particular. Where does this uncertainty come from?
Medhi: Understanding an abstract work is something very personal. It is an exploration of the unknown. Sometimes I might have an idea or a concept to start and then it just changes throughout the process. Because of the pandemic, there were so many uncertainties about whether or not I would be able to go with an idea as I didn’t know how many dancers I would have the next day. So my only choice was to embrace the unknown and to connect with intuition and freedom. Now, reflecting back, I can see that the work is clearly split in half. The first part can be seen as being about the willingness to achieve something together, while the second part is about abandonment and letting go.
Jamie: We’re now halfway through Ballet BC’s 21/22 season. What are you looking forward to in the remainder of the season?
Medhi: I look forward to our May program, What If. We have three new creations by four incredible artists that I cannot wait to discover. Our choreographic lab with Margaret Grenier and Starr Muranko, two Indigenous choreographers is also something I cannot wait for. We all were so inspired by our time together last year.
Catch just BEFORE right AFTER as part of Reveal + Tell, March 3/4/5 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and March 11/12 at the Royal Theatre in Victoria, presented by Dance Victoria.