Art is the ultimate form of hope

Art is the ultimate form of hope

Dossier | Medhi Walerski

On September 17 this year, the NDT 1 programme Endlessly Free premiered at the Zuiderstrandtheater in The Hague under strict COVID measures. It was the first time Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) performed again since February this year and the first time Medhi Walerksi presented his newest piece Silent Tides that he created with the dancers of NDT 1.

How did it feel to be back in the theatre with the dancers?
As performing artists, the stage is our home, so it was overwhelming to step back onto it, as you can imagine. Even though it was strange and new to adhere to all the restrictions, the sense of familiarity and belonging was incredibly heartwarming. I loved it. I look back at the last week with a bit of nostalgia since I left for Canada the following day to commence my position as Artistic Director of Ballet BC in Vancouver. So I saw the performance only on opening night, which was incredibly strange. Usually I’m there at least for the first three or four performances; I always love witnessing how a work evolves on stage.

You’ve started creating again in the midst of social distancing. How did that process go and how did it influence your new piece?
Of course, there was always a cloud hanging over our heads as a constant reminder that we were so fortunate to be back working in the studio while simultaneously fearing that everything could stop at any given moment. We started creating at the time when dancers were still not allowed to touch, which generated lots of choreographic material. It was a nice starting point. There was this natural magnetism and a great urge to touch each other when dancers were together in the studio, which was challenging at times. The essence of dance is grounded in the concept of making physical and emotional contact between people and their bodies and for dancers to deeply connect with their physical instrument. That is ultimately what ends up on stage and what the audience gets to experience so intensely. The beauty of a live performance is unsurpassed in that way. Over time, as we progressed in the creative process, restrictions were eased and dancers were allowed to touch again. Then things really started to flow.

This year has reinforced the idea that the act of creating does not know any boundaries, and that we will always be able to create, no matter the circumstances. Art is the ultimate form of hope.

Scott Fowler and Chloé Albaret in 'Silent Tides'. Photo: Rahi Rezvani

Could you share a bit about your Silent Tides? What drew you mostly to create this piece?
Silent Tides is an intimate work that reflects the idea of human connection, the relationship to one another and to ourselves. Even though it was not the primary inspiration for the work, it revealed itself throughout the process. Witnessing human relations and their endless creative possibilities has been a beautiful and unique experience during the process. I wanted to create a duet before the pandemic started. I felt that it was the right time in my career to work closely with two artists for an extended period of time.
I have created large ensemble pieces in the past years, so creating a duet inspired me, regardless of the current situation.

 

This year has reinforced the idea that the act of creating does not know any boundaries, and that we will always be able to create, no matter the circumstances. Art is the ultimate form of hope.

Medhi Walerski

    After the premiere on Thursday September 17 you left straight for Vancouver where you’ll be starting as the new Artistic Director for Ballet BC. This will be the first time you’re at the head of a dance company and expanding your practice into directing that requires new approaches to the work. How are you preparing for this new role? Can you share a bit about your plans for Ballet BC?
    Correct, I have never been at the head of a dance company before. NDT has been my home for over 15 years and I hope I’ll never lose my connection to the company. It has been a bit of a crash course since the beginning of the pandemic. Even though I have enrolled in a leadership course last year with the help of the Omschooling, I was certainly not prepared for what we are facing now. But like practically everybody at the moment, I am learning as I go.

    In regards to plans for Ballet BC, there are different scenarios. There is still so much unknown, which I view as an opportunity. This time has allowed me to start investigating projects and collaborations with other art organisations that operate differently in the way they structure their audiences. In that sense, the pandemic has emerged a new way of thinking and raises questions about movement and space: Is it possible to move away from the conventional performance space? How can we structure our programming until large live audiences are allowed again?

    I see this as a great moment to dream and imagine where the company and the dance world at large could possibly go, and it’s important we start to lay that foundation now.

    [text continues after image]

    Scott Fowler and Chloé Albaret in 'Silent Tides'. Photo: Rahi Rezvani

    In the midst of the current restrictions, many cultural organizations turn to online presentations of their work, even though we know the live experience can never be substituted with an online performance. This unique ‘’aliveness” can only exist and vibrate physically and in real-time. Of course, this is something we’re working on at Ballet BC, without ever forgetting the company’s core values of creation and live performance.
    As soon as more people are allowed back in the theatres, will there be an outpouring of desire to get back together as a community in the theatre space? Are we going to celebrate and experience a ‘’Renaissance” of the dance performance? These are questions I ask myself. Even though I don’t have the answers I do want to be ready for when clarity occurs.

    Wherever we are in the world, and at whatever level of confinement, our normal actions and motions are thrust into a universal restructuring.
    It is up to us, artists, to keep moving forward, to keep trusting, and to carve the path. My greatest hope is that this time is as nourishing and self-reflective as it can be and that it expands our capacity for resilience, reciprocity and creativity.

    Stage trailer 'Silent Tides'