On July 10th, an overcast humid afternoon, I walked into Santa Monica’s BroadStage to see Barak Ballet, not knowing what to expect. An hour and a half later I walked out into clear skies and soft breezes, exactly reflecting the joyous mood created within the theater.
From the moment “Carry Me Anew” by Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer, Ma Cong, as staged by Lauren Fagone, began; I knew I was in for a treat. The beautifully hypnotic score, by electronic artist Nils Frahm, is the bedrock from which Barak Ballet’s superb dancers glide with seemingly little effort, through this entrancing work. Effectively dressed in short grey tunics with multi colored stripes, designed by Rebecca Baygents Turk, Cong creates engaging pictures with his staging and unique take on how to use ballet technique.
With interludes of fast footwork, inventive partnering, duos, trios and full company dancing we ride along with “its exploratory spirit.” Cong manages to add hints of contemporary jazz along with a nod to the flat arms of the early avant-garde period, which in his hands, all works together perfectly. This was an auspicious start to a wonderfully impactful show. Though no individual credits are given for soloists, suffice to say that any one of these expert dancers are capable of anything asked of them. They are; Sadie Black, Michael Caye, Zachary Guthier, Mate Szentes, Evan Swenson, Megan Wilcox, and Paige Wilkey. The effective Lighting Design is by Nathan Scheuer.
Riveting is the word that comes to mind when thinking of “Wien” Pascal Rioult’s stunning offering. Staged by Brian Flynn, this is a piece that was debuted January 13th, 1995 and is every bit as timely today. “La Valse” by Maurice Ravel is “a fantastic and fatal swirling of tragic dimension.” Used as a metaphor for the “disintegration of society, and the premonition of triumphant evil” this is not a happy escape. With the dancers dressed in dark blue and white, “everyday clothes,” appropriately designed by Russ Volger, we are seeing the demise of the “regular” people. Rioult is uncompromising in his gaze as he takes us along on the road to purgatory or worse. The music is a waltz that sweeps you along, as a waltz will but infused with the underpinnings of cynicism and despair it is something else altogether. So while we ride the lyrical wave we are pulled into the undertow. The darkly ominous Lighting Design by David Finley captures the oppressive, suffocating mood. The choreography is wild yet contained, intricate yet free and impossible to look away from. Rioult builds on a series of mincing steps to frame a nightmare of falling, dropping, jumping, shoving, pushing, murder and debauchery in a dance of a human apocalypse. It’s hard to imagine that “Wien” or Vienna written in 1919 is not a comment by Ravel on the insanity of the “Great War.” Brilliantly danced by the committed company, I along with the audience was left breathless. “Wien” was deservedly met with an instantaneous standing ovation. The dancers were Sadie Black, Zachary Guthier, Stephanie Hall, David Prottas, Evan Swenson, and Sareen Tchekmedyian.
I was concerned about what could follow the intensity of ”Wien” but Melissa Barak’s premier performance of “The Queen Has Arrived” was the perfect finale to this afternoon of extraordinary dance. The music by film composer Michael Nyman from the documentary “McQueen,” incorporates classical music with an undercurrent of electronica to great effect. Barak has chosen mostly upbeat melodious, segments with hints of baroque and a touch of rock and roll. The costumes, flesh colored unitards with individual designs of color blocks by Designer Rosalida Medina, work well by adding flair without obscuring the body. Barak’s depth as a ballet choreographer is evident here as she fills each segment with her imaginative repertoire of movement. Not singled out in the program, each soloist brought impeccable technique and joyfulness to the stage. The artful choreography, crafted to build with the music, brought this wonderful new piece to an exuberant finale.
The flawless dancers were, Michael Caye, Xuan Cheng, Maine Kawashima, Erik Kim, Brian Simcoe, with Sareen Tchemedyian, Paige Wilkey and Megan Wilcox. The sunny lighting design was by Bri Patillo.
Melissa Barak has created a first-class ballet company, one that should be supported and celebrated. The next time they perform go see them and you too will be filled with the spirit and joy of dance.
To learn more about Barak Ballet, please visit their website.
To find out more about BroadStage, please visit their website.
This article was correct to fix an omission on 7/14/22
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Barak Ballet – L-R Megan Wilcox, Michael Caye, Paige Wilkey, Erik Kim, Sareen Tchekmedyian in “The Queen Has Arrived” choreography by Melissa Barak – Photo by Cheryl Mann