Medhi Walerski on Staging Petite Cérémonie in Georgia


The inclusion of many interesting ballets in the local Theater’s repertoire, hard work and research of young choreographers have resulted in a notable rise of interest in contemporary choreography in Georgia. The South Caucasus Contemporary Dance Festival was created in Tbilisi a few years ago.

Medhi Walerski is a French choreographer and former leading dancer of Jirí Kylián’s troupe. He has been working as a stage choreographer for the last ten years and has already gained much respect from ballet companies. ‘Petite Cérémonie’ was first staged in 2011 in Vancouver for the British Columbia ballet company (Ballet BC). Nina Ananiashvili, artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia, got interested in the successful performance, and invited the choreographer to Tbilisi in January 2017. The premiere took place at the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater on February 4, 2017. We spoke to Medhi Walerski before the premiere.

You described Petite Cérémonie as “a quirky essay on the way we box ourselves in”. What is the main message of your ballet?

Petite Cérémonie was a debut for me as a choreographer. When I started working on it, I didn’t have a clear message that I wanted to share with the audience, what I wanted more was to ask questions. The ballet is a study of the idea of the difference between man and woman, as well as of the idea of confinement, which is why we worked on the idea of what life in a box was like. My interest is to show the contrast between chaos and order. As a choreographer, I’m also interested in feeling that I am free to interpret the piece I am watching in whatever way I want. It is like watching a painting: someone standing next to me might see something completely different than I do. We can have different ideas about what it means, so I don’t want everyone to see the same thing in my works, I just want people to feel free to see what they think that is. Therefore, there’s no clear message, and the feelings of the audience after the show should be very personal.

Contemporary dance choreographers often get inspired by music, feelings, dreams, or even their private lives. What was yours for this particular ballet?

We started by watching a speech from Mark Gungor; it was a speech about a scientific study looking into male and female psychology. As I’ve already told you, this subject is very interesting to me. When I work with large groups in the studio, the approaches of men and women are very different. I couldn’t say which one is better. There are simply moments when these differences clash, and moments when they match. This is precisely what sparked my interest, and what I used while working in the studio.

The work is staged on music by Mozart, Bellini, Rodgers & Hart and Vivaldi; compositions from entirely different eras, styles and directions. What was the unifying factor that brought them together in your score?

The challenge lies precisely in putting various artistic eras of music together. I also relate to the idea of ceremony as a process or ritual. For example, when we celebrate something, one of the main attributes is the music that is played. Somewhere else, there’s a totally different music, but both places are connected by the idea of celebrating something. For me, working on this piece also gave me great pleasure from its music – its music that I like very much. We could understand this music as a ceremony that is taking place throughout the night at different places, but only for 25 minutes.

Did you encounter any difficulties while working with the Tbilisi company? Was there any need to amend the ideas employed in Vancouver?

When Nina Ananiashvili invited me here and I read some information about the Georgian company on the internet. It mainly performs classical ballets, and I was nervous about how the dancers would adapt to my style. But actually, I didn’t encounter any difficulty. The challenge for me was to adapt the work for the company, and almost recreate some parts, especially the one in which a man is juggling while others are talking on the scene.

You have a lot of experience working with choreographers including Jiri Kylián, William Forsythe, Mats Ek, Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, etc. Would you say your choreographic language is close to theirs?

It would be impossible for me to say no. When you belong to a family, it’s in your genes. But I have my personal language as well, which is made up of my experience with these diverse choreographers. This is something which I was trying to get away from at some point in my career, but I decided to do the exact opposite, to embrace it, and to develop my own vision from what I’ve learned from these choreographers.

Do you always have an idea of what you will be staging when you enter a studio, or is the process dictated by music and dancers’ bodies?

For ‘Garden’, the last creation I made for NDT (Nederlands Dans Theater), I knew exactly what I wanted, and had chosen the music in advance. Even though I was thinking about each movement of the choreography for a long time and often changed them, I had a clear idea in mind. Sometimes, I enter a studio armed with a strong sensation or dream, but this process doesn’t follow any rule. Sometimes, halfway through the working process, I change my mind because of the people I work with at the studio, or how it develops into something organic, something more alive. You have to be ready for change, and to let go of what you have already done. But it’s very dependent on the company I’m working with.

What are your plans for the near future? Where have you worked?

In the near future, I’m planning to work on a choreography for NDT. I am preparing a new ballet there for August. Before that, I have decided to do yoga, so that I can relate more to the body. I am interested in learning yoga from a physical point of view. As for choreography, I also have future projects, including a big production to prepare for 2018, as well as some courses – I intend to study light, costume and set design in London, in order to enrich my choreography work. I will also take acting courses, because I am focusing on dialogues in my creations.

Do you want to stage an adaptation of any classical works?

I think classical ballet deserves to be revised, almost given a second life, even though I think classical ballet should also be kept the way it is, because actually it’s fantastic to keep this heritage. Right now, I have a commission for Romeo and Juliet. I can’t tell you much about it, because the discussion is still at an unofficial level.

You were one of the leading soloists at NDT for many years, and you worked with Kylián. What did working with him give you as a dancer and a choreographer?

Working with Jiri Kylián taught me to be humble, patient, as well as the relationship between a dancer and a choreographer. I learned the process from both sides. The way he takes care of his dancers is truly unique. Of course, working on the creative side and staging ballets with Kylián was also very inspiring, but above all, it’s his human side that was particularly interesting and motivating.

Showing on February 10, 11.

See page 14 for more info.

Ilia Tavberidze, State Ballet of Georgia

08 February 2018 17:17