Dance Review: Barak Ballet At The Broad Stage
Inspired by the creative breeding ground that is Los Angeles, the program selection seems eclectic at first: Melissa Barak’s neo-classical style (she contributes two pieces “Lux Aeterna” and “For Two”) collides with Danielle Agami’s search for human essence in minimal movement. Pascal Rioult’s “Wien” is a typical gala piece: a “fantastic and fatal swirling” set to a pompous score (a recording of Maurice Ravel’s “La Valse”). The over-acting and generally grotesque flair of this 1995 work appears somewhat dated and out of place.
Artistic director Melissa Barak’s vision for her troupe is ambitious. In a small video segment ahead of curtain, Barak, a former ballerina at the New York City Ballet, explains that she wants to look for a deeper connection between dance and the audience. She wants to conquer new artistic frontiers in Los Angeles through collaboration with writers, fashion designers and choreographers. The Malibu Coast Chamber Orchestra under music director Scott Hosfeld shone with clear timing in their interpretation of Maria Newman’s score “Lux Aeterna.” Barak has a way of revealing each dancer’s personality: Abigail Simon and Brian Gephart are naturally charming in a speedy, cheeky pas-de-deux, while Jaime Hickey and Andrew Brader’s lyrical segments compliment their tall frames and expressive interpretation. Forceful manipulation through linking arms resolves into harmonious, fluid partnering in a second. The simplicity of the black and blue lighting and costumes (by Eileen Cooley and Ruth Fentroy) hooks by catapulting the piece into a Pacific coast setting. The most memorable moment is the very last: As the music fades, the men walk into the darkness upstage. Jaime Hickey, laying with her back on the floor, lowers her right arm to the floor with such intent that no one dares to applaud until the back of her hand finally rests quietly the ground.
In the pas-de-deux “For Two,” danced by Xuan Cheng and Brian Simcoe, Barak’s emphasis is on musicality. Driven by the solo piano of Mario Grigorov’s score, the piece is a master-class in classical partnering. Effortlessly, with momentum and great trust in one another, Cheng and Simcoe whizz through the piece. Cheng’s generous port-de-bras seems to engage her whole upper body—much like fellow Chinese ballerina and San Francisco Ballet principal, Yuan Yuan Tan.
Barak herself is the soloist of “Loose Gravel." She crouches and skids along the floor like a mermaid or a broken doll. Clad only a skin-colored unitard with her hazelnut brown hair loose, her gaze remains vague. Only the her feet give away her identity: the way she peels her toes and makes her bones undulate to find a flexed foot position make it clear—she is a ballet dancer. Each movement is minute, intricate and intimate. The piece by contemporary choreographer Danielle Agami is a sketch, an experiment for Barak to re-invent herself and find new directions. It is an open invitation to return to the essence of where it all started: the motivation to lift-off and discover standing, walking, dancing anew.
Barak’s venture to lift off her own company is well on its way. The quality and artistic maturity of her performers invite the audience to reconnect with dance on a more personal level. Barak’s connections to local artists and willingness to take risks are great tools on the way to sustainable success.
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