Choreographer finds ‘own echo’ in ‘Rite’-inspired dance

Apr. 01, 2013 @ 05:08 PM

Choreographer Medhi Walerski, 34, would not be the first to feel daunted by the prospect of creating a dance inspired by the 1913 “The Rite of Spring.” American modern dance choreographer Bill T. Jones’ first response had been “Yikes!”

In Walerski’s case, geography played a role in his initial reservations. He recalls even feeling frightened in early 2011 when Netherlands Dans Theater’s then-artistic director, Jim Vincent, asked him to create such a work for Carolina Performing Arts’ celebration of the 100th anniversary of the original “Rite.”

That work, “Chamber,” will be included on Netherlands Dans Theater’s Wednesday  program at UNC’s Memorial Hall.

“For me, it was overwhelming because I come from Paris,” Walerski said in a telephone interview from The Hague in Holland where Nederlands DansTheater is based. He is also a dancer in the company.

Walerski said he grew up knowing about that infamous May 29, 1913, premiere of  “The Rite of Spring” in Paris that had prompted an audience riot so loud dancers could not hear Igor Stravinsky’s music and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky had to call out the counts from the wings.

“It’s an amazing piece of music,” Walerski said of Stravinsky’s score.

He and British composer Joby Talbot listened to the music as they began their collaboration to create “Chamber.”  Struck by the music’s power, Walerski had first asked Talbot to create something “bombastic” but soon realized he also needed some quiet moments.

The choreographer also read Nijinsky’s diary and other books. He watched such reconstructions as the one Joffrey Ballet premiered in 1987 (performed by this company in March at UNC.) And he drew on his experiences of performing twice in versions of “The Rite.”

“I wanted to be inspired by the taste of it, what I’m left with. I just wanted to find my own echo,” Walerski said of creating “Chamber.”

That echo draws on both Stravinsky’s music and Nijinsky’s use of the circular to signify ritual. After “Chamber’s” October 2012 premiere at The Hague, a reviewer it as “… a wild round dance with emotionally loaded duets …”

“Chamber” runs 30 minutes and features nine male and nine female dancers. Walereski will not appear in it – unless. “If I have a dancer that goes off, then I have to jump in,” he said.

While he has been creating dances for this company for a relatively short time – since 2008 -- he began making up dances for himself at an early age. “When I was 6, in my mother’s living room, we pushed back the couch and invited neighbors to sit down and watch me dance for an hour,” he said.