Taking Steps to Make Steps
Medhi Walerski arrives in the Green Room straight from the studio. He casts an eye over the guys chilling out at the nearby pool table, grins and says one thing. “NDT2.” Playing pool isn’t on his agenda today, or for the foreseeable future. He’s too caught up in a doubly creative life that sees him on-stage, dancing with NDT1, and behind-scenes, choreographing a new piece for the junior wing, NDT2. Betweentimes, when he’s at home, chances are he’ll be putting together soundscores for possible dance pieces. “I’ve been searching out music, building myself a library of music that I love and that touches my heart. All kinds – classical, electronic, ambient, soundscapes. And now I’m working with computers. I just play around with these layers of music, cutting and switching – and now I’m experimenting with using voices. I’ve just bought some equipment…”
He pauses. “You know, choreography makes me so happy, so excited. Sometimes, working in the studio can feel even better Quote-3than dancing – because it’s not just about me, my body, my performance. It’s about other people too. And when you see the transformation in the dancers because of what you can give them – it’s wonderful.”
At 27, Medhi is in his seventh season with Nederlands Dans Theater – his first two years were with NDT2 and he’s now spent five years with the main company, NDT1. “Your way of life definitely changes when you make that move,” he says. “It’s a little bit like growing up, becoming an adult. In NDT2, you have to dance like crazy – learn, learn, learn and dance, dance, dance. But somehow you have this feeling that you’re still just this group of teenagers having fun together. Don’t get me wrong – in NDT2 we were absolutely professional about our dancing. We danced really seriously – but it was still a kind of adventure, I think. Also, when you’re in the young company, you’re living altogether – so it feels like a real family, and you’re sharing your life with your friends. So coming into NDT1, it’s like leaving home without leaving the house itself. You’re aware there is a more mature attitude. And that people are beginning to form their own lives and relationships. But I’m still a child! I love to be with NDT2, I love the ambience, the craziness, the fun and laughter – which is why I love to choreograph on them. I’ve been there, know how it goes and how to use it, I think.”
Medhi and The Workshops
Medhi always had, from his early training days in Paris, a strong inkling that choreography was like a magnet that drew all kinds of ideas about music and movement out of his imagination. When he came to The Hague, he found that dancers were encouraged to make workshop pieces that were genuinely taken account of by the creative heads at NDT. “For me, it was such an ideal opportunity,” he says. “You had technicians to help with the staging. A little bit of money to buy costumes, decor, whatever. You could see how your own work might look when performed by really good dancers – who were also your friends, keen to support you.”
When Anders Hellström arrived, at the beginning of 2004, one of his initiatives was an ‘upcoming choreographers’ programme – and Medhi found himself asked to make a work for NDT1. “I was just overwhelmed by the experience – blown away by it. And then NDT2’s director asked me if I wanted to make a piece for them…” He falls silent. He’s been joking about the exuberant teen spirit that fuels the NDT2 troops, and makes being in the studio with them both stimulating and rewarding. But the punchline to his jokes is, actually, the far from flippant approach he has to choreography as a future career. He explains. “During my five years with NDT1, I’ve already seen other dancers come and go. In NDT2, you have this hope that leaving, you will go up to the next level, which is NDT1. Some days, I’d find myself thinking ‘what next?’ There is no next level waiting when you leave – and that doesn’t worry you when you’re dancing, and you’re fit and happy doing it. I feel so lucky that the choreographic workshops have already given me my answer, opened the door on my future. And it’s great. I feel that I can progress, learning from the other choreographers who come here, but that now – when I come to choreograph for NDT2 – it’s my time, my turn, to pass on all that I’ve gained to the next generation. It’s that sense of family again – what I contribute stays ‘within the house.’ That my transition from NDT2 to NDT1, from dancer to choreographer, is how we are as a company. The learning curve never stops. And – like any home – I feel safe, which means I am more able to take risks with what I choreograph.”
It’s time for him to go back into the studio – he gathers up his belongings and without a single backwards glance towards that pool table, he’s gone.