Interview with Medhi Walerski, Incoming Artistic Director of Ballet BC & Choreographer of Romeo + Juliet
by Janet Smith, Arts Editor/Dance Writer, The Georgia Straight
Janet Smith: Tell me your feelings about story ballet coming into this project.
Medhi Walerski: I’ve been trying to keep myself away from story ballet for so many years because it was not what I wanted to do. And also, how I developed as a choreographer was not related to telling a story; it was more abstract, and I had different interests. But funny enough, and I said it just this morning, I am so happy that I got the chance, that I got offered a story ballet! First because it challenged me but also because I really enjoyed it!
I feel connected now. Maybe I didn’t feel brave enough to enter that before—to talk about love, to talk about death, to talk about conflict. But now I see it is so relevant and I feel connected to it now, more than I could have in the past.
JS: You’re coming at it in a different way, from the outside, then?
MW: Of course, when I think of story ballet I think of classical ballet, but this piece is almost an homage to classical ballet. I’ve been watching a lot of ballets of Romeo and Juliet and the way that they’ve portrayed Shakespeare’s play. But of course, I find my own voice and interests in the story. It’s almost like opening a door that hasn’t been opened with what I’ve seen…. So, I wanted to stay close to the story, but I wanted to develop certain parts that caught my interest.
JS: So what really spoke to you in the story?
MW: It’s what happens to you when you know that the only way out is to die, and what happens to you when you die. Like that moment when Mercutio is dying and he’s trying to contain himself because he’s such a party guy. What happens to you in this time between being hurt and then the moment when you really die, when you separate from your physical body? It’s like a time lapse in a way that I thought was interesting to look at. I connect to this because of the age I’m at. When I was in my 20s, people got married and had children, But now in my 30s people are dying around me. Death was not part of my journey before as a human being.
JS: Was the decision made early on that you wanted to use Prokofiev’s lush romantic score?
MW: Yes. It was from day one and was from the first discussion of collaborating with Ballet BC on Romeo + Juliet. I didn’t hesitate. I thought about adding a soundscape but it was not needed. This was like the gene, the DNA of the piece.
JS: You’re going very sleek and black and white and geometric on the set.
MW: Yes, I knew that I wanted it to be timeless and not in a specific place—this was very clear to me. I wanted something pure, something universal so that you could connect with the emotions and psychology of the characters, more than being in Italy or Renaissance time. The look also relates to Shakespeare: what I connected to with him was this idea of dark and light, day and night. There’s this constant duality in his work that I wanted to use in the aesthetics of this piece.
JS: You’ve integrated moving sets with the dancers moving among them. And there are so many dancers.
MW: I’ve never worked with sets like this. And I’ve never worked with so many characters! I am used to doing group pieces. But here they all belong to the same story, yet they all have a very specific role. So, the way I’m going to choreograph and search for movement with someone that feels much more anger is going to be different than someone that is 14 and full of joy and hope. It’s really demanding.
JS: Would you say this is the piece where you’re bringing your past and your present together?
MW: I am classically trained—it is part of my heritage and it is part of my language, even though my movement is contemporary. And it is not something I reject; it’s something I embrace. In a way this is an expression of all my past choreography but also opening some new doors.