Choreographed by Medhi Walerski. A Ballet BC presentation. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, March 17. Continues until March 19
If your drains are clogged, call a plumber. That nagging pain in the general vicinity of your liver? Consult a physician, because Dr. Google’s only going to take you so far. Don’t let a veterinarian fly your jumbo jet.
But anyone can write, right? Billions of bloggers can’t be wrong.
Alas, French choreographer Medhi Walerski has fallen into this popular delusion, nearly spoiling his otherwise impressive Natus with a self-written text of bizarrely lead-footed banality.
It’s a baffling choice: having wisely outsourced the music to professionals such as percussion virtuoso Rob Knopper, the Kodō taiko troupe, and early-music specialists the Taverner Consort and Players, why would Walerski insist on doing a job for which he’s so manifestly ill-suited? As delivered by the alternately saturnine and wide-eyed dancer Peter Smida, the choreographer’s rant was a farrago of adolescent wordplay—baroque, broke: yeah, we get it—and stoner musings about sturgeons and birthdays and cake.
Was there no poet who could have been commissioned to give Walerski’s thoughts better form?
Balletomanes can give thanks, at least, that Walerski did not wrest the controls of the lighting desk from James Proudfoot. The local theatre-and-dance legend’s contributions are among the chief pleasures of Natus: at times, he creates vignettes in black and gold that suggest the hieratic splendour of some ancient Egyptian court; elsewhere, he builds stand-alone rooms from nothing but light.
These intimate spaces often host duets, and in both Natus, here receiving its world premiere, and in 2014’s Prelude, Walerski shows that however clunky his wordplay might be, he has a graceful understanding of interpersonal dynamics.
Playing lovers, Rachel Meyer and Scott Fowler take full advantage of the choreographer’s more balletic side during their long turn at centre stage during Prelude, conjuring up an amour of believable tenderness and sharing. Fowler is equally convincing during the work’s solo coda, in which he appears to wander through a fog of loss. In contrast, the duets in Natus are less personalized, the dancers anonymous agents engaged in quick, stylized encounters. Both approaches have value.
Walerski’s greatest accomplishments, however, came during Natus’s ensemble scenes. For this work, which he describes in his program notes as a celebration “of the irrevocable beauty of our existence”, he appears to have made a close study of ritual, from coronation ceremonies to funeral rites. And yet he’s not immune to the call of the absurd: in one passage, which was simultaneously magical and ridiculous, the corps flanked a crowned and regal Smida on both sides, dropping slowly into a shuffling crouch as they passed him before peeling off and repeating the manoeuvre. The dancers looked like urgent fish, and Smida looked as if he was being propelled forward on an infinite wave—until he began to step with the exaggerated gestures of the young Max in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, whose spiky headgear costume designer Nancy Bryant has quite possibly borrowed.
The corps also made good use of body percussion and costumes with jingling bells sewn into their shoulders, bringing a lively, African-influenced physicality into work that might have otherwise slipped over into heady abstraction.
Dance this complex and layered is rare; it’s a shame bad writing had to intrude.