Saturday March 16, Melissa Barak, Artistic Director and Founder of Barak Ballet presented two experimental pieces for the new Series “OFF/Balance for Experimental Creations” at Broad’s Edye Theatre in Santa Monica.

Barak is a product of Los Angeles’ Westside Ballet, studying with Yvonne Mounsey, Rosemary Valaire and Nader Hamed.  When moving to New York she entered the honored walls of The School of American Ballet, and on to the New York City Ballet where she worked with such greats as Balanchine, Wheeldon, and Feld.   Barak soon came back to Southern Cal to perform principal roles with Los Angeles Ballet, but Peter Martins, seeing her talent in choreography, called her back to New York City as a choreographer.  Her clearly fearless ability to have her own mind and artistic view makes her a rugged individualist in the crowd of boy wonder choreographers.  Without a doubt, she has been and is one to watch.

In this program Barak presented two pieces, the first, Before You Had a Name, choreographed by Danielle Rowe, of Australian Ballet, Houston Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater fame, who presented her exploration, a second in the series, of motherhood subjects, to a sold-out audience three rows high and surrounding the entire dance space.

The dance stage itself was empty save for two music stands off to one corner.  Soon the din of chatting dance enthusiasts quieted with an intro by Melissa Barak. The lights dimmed and, like spirits, the male dancers Andrew Brader, and Evan Swenson, along with the ghostly cello player, Ross Gasworth dragging his cello, joined in as they drifted around the floor.  Gasworth settled at his music stands as the others continued their journey. Then a leggy vision in Peach, Julia Erikson, wafts in helping to set the table and chair, as both males and female do their solo movements, Pas de Deux and Trois over, under and around the set pieces.  Although a dynamic work, the space compromised the compelling movements and in particular, anything done waist level or on the floor.  As an example, both the graphics and movement on the floor were missed nearly half way through the piece.

Barak Ballet - Photo by Cheryl Mann

Barak Ballet – Photo by Cheryl Mann

With all the dancer’s activity, like magic, concealed some of the entrances, and essence of this piece.  The lovely Sarah Van Patten, one of the gifts of the evening from San Francisco Ballet, stealthily seated herself exactly opposite the music stands and began her meditation in a mauve lace leotard and skirt, her arms circling, caressing the table.  As she stands we see her full pregnancy.  Now the poem in the program note becomes meaningful to us:

Something precious, my secret, my own.
Who will you be? Who will I be?
You visit me in my dreams.
I know you.
And then you had a name.
(author unknown)

Before you Had a Name takes on a kind of love duet between mother and the unborn, including the presence of a pregnant violinist, Heather Powell, also in Mauve and adding the beauty of JS Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Cello.  The strength, the curiosity and hope, is reflected in Van Patten’s work.  Her strength of movement, willingness to go air bound with long extended Rond de jambe en L’air (circle of the leg in the air) at times exciting, at times unnerving.  Nevertheless commendable.   The lyrical moments towards the end of the piece tended to be more transformative, with her lovely expressive face and arms, as she moved away and into the shadows to end the piece.

During the intermission, there was a casualness that made one feel part of the preparation; moving of sets and props, some dancers warming up on the dance floor, testing of the video montages projected both on the floor and on the un-curtained side wall.  All, then suddenly disappearing as the lights dimmed.

We then see the beginnings of Off the Grid, by Melissa Barak.  It is introduced by a “collapsar, “circular graphic representation visually imploding in the center of the dance space.  The media designs were by media artist Sebastian Peschiera of Narduli Studio and Tommy Etkin and Jon Macleod of Optexture.

The dancers Sadie Black and Chasen Greenwood entered first, then Jessica Gadzinski and Francisco Preciado glided in to join them.  Gadzinski poses, lunging with open mouth as if calling to the primordial ancestors.  They all move in long legato lines and phrasing to original music by David Lawrence.  Barak’s choreography with lifts, falls, and movement effortlessly exploding from the dancers at moments, was executed with technical expertise.  However, because this was to be a premiere in this difficult and physically small and complex space, about 60% was lost to the 2nd and 3rd rows.  The site lines primarily existed from the tops of legs and above, many of the movements that needed to be seen were lost in this venue.   The possibility of success, just as if there had been no sound, could not be fully seen nor realized without more consideration of the space.  Because of the complexity of the many elements coming together, the rivalry needed careful deliberation.

Barak Ballet - Photo by Cheryl Mann

Barak Ballet – Photo by Cheryl Mann

It appeared, however, that Barak and the dancers fought to use what they were given.  Stephanie Kim’s lovely lyricism, and ability to communicate feeling was truly inspiring on this second leg of experimentation.   Her ability to use the stage, her awareness of a kind of pas de deux between the graphic designs and the music, showed either Barak’s gift or Kim’s own innate understanding and awareness of the full art form and the mission of the piece.

The thesis for this piece was human evolution, our relationship with the environment past and present, and finally, today’s technology and struggles.  To deal with simply one of these vast subjects would have been enough, it attempted at forging enlightenment, when the base had not yet been built.  Perhaps more time and struggle were needed to cook this work-in-progress.  Perhaps if this had been done on a thrust stage, the form may have been appreciated more easily.  Despite these impediments, this is the making of a fine young company, finding its way with the abundance of talent, wonderful dancers and powerful subjects.

For information about Barak Ballet, click here.

For information about The Edye Theater at The Broad Stage, click here.

Featured image: Barak Ballet – Photo by Cheryl Mann