Melissa Barak, Artistic Director of Barak Ballet, believes extraordinary performances can change lives. On Friday June 28, and Saturday, June 29, 2019 on The Broad Stage in Santa Monica she demonstrated her full commitment to do just that. Barak Ballet astonished the audience with their individual and combined brilliance made up of artists with superior technical and emotional talent. All her dancers were handpicked, all true pros from amazing companies around the U.S., many either hailing from or settled here on the West Coast. All showed their own individual and exceptional flair and gifted us with a remarkable night of dance in Los Angeles.
It was an excellent evening of “firsts”. Three Premieres by astute, talented young choreographers with fresh sights on Contemporary Ballet.
The first amongst the three was Within Without by the South African born Andrea Giselle Schermoly, formerly with Netherlands Dance Theater and Boston Ballet, now Louisville Ballet’s resident choreographer. Her wide-ranging career extends also to Hollywood film, TV and commercials.
The poignant premise of Without Within explored the desire for a child that never comes, with Hildur Guōnadóttir’s Baer leading the way into the Stabat Mater Cantate (Song of the Sorrowful Mother) “Cessate, Omai Cessate” by Vivaldi; and topped off with Letters of a Traveller by the Chopin Project, Ólafur Arnaids, Alice Sara Ott – Prelude in D Flat Major Op 28 No. 15 by The Chopin Project, Ólafur Arnaids, Alice Sara Ott.
The genesis of Schermoly’s piece introduces the enchanting Julia Erickson with her exquisite technique and breadth of feeling, joined by Zachery Guthier’s facile partnering and artistry. Then followed by Stephanie Hall and Andrew Brader’s effortless duet. The dramatic, often stark lighting by Nathan Scheuer, and costume design by Ruth Fentroy and Schemoly was a splendid accompaniment with this stunning piece.
Next was Stephanie Kim’s captivating work shown through with her mesmerizing performance supported by the marvelous work of Guthier, the fiery Francisco Preciado’s exacting technique and the powerful Brader. Moving through the pas de deux, then trois then quatre with its often surprising and unanticipated movement, exhibited each of their individual styles and personal charisma, yet never disregarded their support of Kim as she glided and flew effortlessly with their impressive partnering and technique.
In the Chopin, Erickson’s lyrical musicality and surprising promenade and balance left the audience holding their breath and made for a thrilling moment, among many in this piece, and backed by Sadie Black, Jessica Gadzinski, and Stephanie Hall.
The third movement with its raw entrance and complexity grew from a crawl to walking, question & answer through movement, to then pairing off male with female. Gadzinski and Brader with their lyrical lifts and counters in a short but soulful duo touched off the ending, with the company completing the piece as perfectly as it began.
The musicality and staging with its canons, theme and variations, outrageous foot work and surprising lifts created such feeling and lyricism that even after the piece was ended, it played back in the mind.
Ma Cong, Chinese born dance maker, the resident choreographer of Tulsa Ballet since 2009, and former Principal Dancer for the National Ballet of China and Tulsa Ballet, learned from the best. He’s done works of Balanchine, Robbins, Forsythe, Kylián, and others, and created his own works for Houston, Joffrey, and Smuin Ballet Companies, to name just a few.
Cong’s choreography, presented the second in a series of Premiere pieces, called Carry Me Anew, which was inspired by Nils Frahms music and its “exploratory spirit.” The complexity of the dance design delves into the “importance of community during personal revolution.”
He introduces his piece through a smoky haze with bodies alternately concealed and revealed through the mist. Nathan Scheuer’s dramatic and expressive lighting and Rebecca Baygents Turk’s costuming of unique tunics with muted earth toned cummerbunds complements this complex dance and partnering phenomenon. The rhythmic solos, pas de deux, trois and company work, was highly intricate, imaginative and intense with the boundless energy and technically amazing dancers defying gravity at every turn, lift and slide.
The diminutive, and facile Jeraldine Mendoza was on fire as she ran at the audience as if to leap over the orchestra and was caught midair by her male partners Dylan Guiterrez, Francisco Preciado, Evan Swenson, and Robert Mulvey. Her supple effortless work, and the strong attentive partnering by Dylan Gutierrez, had such resonance, power and freedom the entire company seemed buoyant with a sharing of love of dance. In the beautiful tango-like feel that both Stephanie Kim and Jessica Gadzinski brought to the piece, their work with Preciado, Swenson and Mulvey was so engaging and intricate as to fascinate and surprise.
The difficulty of the partnering and execution proved, at every turn, what kind of artists these dancers were. Arms raised, unique lifts, sliding and drag turns, the work engaged not only the dancer’s technique but their spirit. The instant changes in direction and movement with each buoyant moment seemed to defy gravity yet looked seamless and effortless.
Los Angeles native and Founder of Barak Ballet, Melissa Barack’s final gift of the evening, named Pretty, Peculiar Things was bold, beautiful and colorful in so many ways. Her piece was inspired by visual artist, Patrick Nagel’s work and his unique vision of the “contemporary woman.” His fearless brush strokes and sense of color is reminiscent in Barak’s choreographic courage and daring sense of movement and musicality.
The costumes by Holly Hynes, with her version of the “little black dress” negotiated its feminine cinched waist and short flared skirts, and picked up the Nagel color schemes with trims of lime, purple, hot pink and yellows, even down to matching sox and pointe shoes. And in tandem, the lighting of Nathan Scheuer mixed and complemented muted colors of sunset subtly moving behind the dancers, enhanced the feel of the piece.
The first movement with music by Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, “Is in C in F?” with remix by R.Luke duBois, featured the outrageous Maine Kawashima and the amazing and facile dancers, Lucia Connolly, Lauren Fedeley, Zachary Guthier, Jeraldine Mendoza, Brian Gephart, Dylan Gutierrez, Robert Mulvey and Tiffany Smith, who supported Kawashima’s audacious technical lightness and made us hold our collective breath in wait for each unique move between Kawashima and her dazzling team.
In the second movement, Jeraldine Mendoza was again ablaze with her searing footwork, weightless body and fearless partnering with Dylan Gutierrez and his supportive and directed lifts done to “Smooth” remix by Glenn Kotche. Connolly, Gephart, Mulvey and Smith, added, with great aplomb, their engaging joy of dance.
The loving lyrical and special artistry of Lauren Fadeley and Zachery Guthier topped off this last movement, and the entire program. Their soulful elation, so often missed in dance today, made the audience hope for more, yet leaving them with the joyful playful feeling of having experienced a truly special evening.
Barak’s choreography and brilliant ability to bring together an assemblage of truly stunning artists have all the makings of being an illustrious and highly sought-after company. Perhaps we simply must hear more about them. Perhaps PR and Marketing flowered all over social media and news outlets, with the recognition that this is one of the finest young companies to emerge in a long time might be a good beginning. This could be an important addition to Barak Ballet’s recognition. This is a must see and must support company.
Brava Barak Ballet was written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
To learn more about Barak Ballet, click here.
Featured image: Barak Ballet – Carry Me Anew choreography by Ma Cong – Photo by Cheryl Mann