Barak Ballet’s latest production delivers for a packed house at The Broad Stage
By Michael Aushenker
Rising Westside ballet choreographer Melissa Barak premiered her confident and compact “Triple Bill 2015” to a packed house last Friday at the 499-seat Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
With Barak Ballet creative director Maya Chen Varnell nearby, Barak thanked guests and supporters during a lively pre-show cocktail hour on opening night (the program also ran Saturday).
The former New York City Ballet and Los Angeles Ballet dancer has much to be grateful for. In a few short years, she has put her Santa Monica-based Barak Ballet on the map, earning gushing write-ups by The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
Named after a revered Chinese general and national hero during the 1100s, Barak’s “Yueh Fei” (scored by Huang Ruo) starts the three-act program with a fireworks-like bang.
Barak had met Huang, a New York City-based composer, during her New York Choreographic Institute days and she very effectively becomes custodian to his dramatic, calculated music — demarked by morose cellos and rolling drums — which at times echoes a sparse ‘70s sci-fi Jerry Goldsmith score.
Evocative and atmospheric, Barak and eight ballet artists — led by Mauro Villanueva (in amber costume, seemingly representing the titular warrior) and Keira Schwartz — captured traditional folkloric Chinese flair through poses and costuming.
When the curtain fell on the show’s first third, the audience seemed primed and wanting more.
Second came “Left Unsaid,” choreographed not by Barak but by Brooklynite Nicolo Fonte and set to a J.S. Bach medley. The work at times appeared to capture a romantic triangle between its female and two male dancers.
With “Left Unsaid,” the devil was truly in the details. The male dancers, dressed in fine-tailored suits (later they doff the blazers down to shirtless vests), emitted a stylish, urbane vibe. The evolving piece culminates with three couples onstage: Sadie Black, Jesse Campbell, Coreen Danaher, Nick Peregrino, Jessica Gadzinski and Evan Swenson. Further echoing the bill’s name perhaps, Fonte incorporates a trio of folding chairs into the storytelling and has the male dancers facing in different directions, the chairs collapsing underneath them, and, toward the end, the ballerina crawling across the laps of three seated male dancers. Small touches, such as synchronized gestures in which the males direct the position of the lead ballerina’s face, made the proceedings sparkle.
Barak’s closing “Middle of Somewhere,” with music by Ezio Bosso, was arguably the least distinctive of the triptych. The three pairs of magenta-clad couples — headed by Villanueva and Jennifer Drake (also in “Yueh Fei”) and rounded out with Season De Angelis, Sean Rollofson and “Yueh Fei” dancers Megan Dickinson and Brian Gephart — were undeniably athletic and entertaining. But this presentation hemmed the closest to the more traditional music, visuals and moves that one may expect from a contemporary ballet show.
As the mind wandered, this writer wondered how Barak’s choreography might work married to some truly contemporary 21st-century sounds — say, LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” or Steve Aoki’s “Dangerous” — but perhaps that’s another “Triple Bill” for another day. The Barak Ballet is only getting started, and a return engagement at The Broad tentatively planned for November is surely something to anticipate.
Find out about upcoming Barak Ballet performances at barakballet.org.