Barak Ballet is back in Santa Monica with a bold flight of ‘New Repertoire’

By Christina Campodonico

Barak Ballet jumps into new choreography this weekend
Photo by Cheryl Mann

Barak Ballet broke out of the ballet box with an assemblage of experimental dance at The Edye earlier this year and continues to tread into unchartered territory with “New Repertoire” at The Broad Stage this weekend.

Friday and Saturday’s performances will feature three world premieres — a “sampling” (as the company’s founder Melissa Barak calls it) of diverse choreographic styles, including her new piece “Pretty, Peculiar Things,” Royal Ballet School alumna Andi Schermoly’s new dance “Within Without,” and Tulsa-based choreographer Ma Cong’s “Carry Me Anew.”

“When I curate … I like to make sure that each program is very diverse — one ballet is not similar to the other and everything has its own flavor,” says Barak, “I would say Ma’s [piece] is very physical, very athletic. … Andi Schermoly’s is probably the most emotional. … And I would say mine is music-driven.”

Choreographed to remixes of Terry Riley’s minimalist masterpiece “In C,” Barak’s piece (which she describes as “something neo-classical, but something on the funky side” with a “slight edge”) is additionally influenced by the artwork of ’80s pop artist Patrick Nagel. Before his heart attack death at age 38 following a celebrity Aerobathon in Santa Monica, Nagel illustrated for Playboy, designed the cover art for Duran Duran’s famed album “Rio,” and was known for his bold images of striking, seductive women — rouge and purple-lipped, raven-haired mavens who reveled in their sexual power through direct stares, sultry power poses and confidently pouted lips.

Their “attitude” impressed Barak, who describes herself as “feisty” and embraces the moniker of L.A.’s “Rebel Ballerina”; she saw an alignment between their display of strength and today’s growing female empowerment movement, which some see as the long-awaited fourth wave of feminism.

“We’re kind of seeing that in our society now, where women are demanding full equality and women are taking charge of their sexuality and … holding people to account,” says Barak, referencing the anti-sexual harassment and abuse movements #MeToo and Time’s Up. “We’re kind of seeing a resurgence of female power.”

Trained by the esteemed female co-founders of Santa Monica’s Westside School of Ballet, Yvonne Mounsey and Rosemary Valaire, Barak credits them for giving her the confidence to forge her own path in the still quite traditional world of ballet — which has included resisting being a “yes-man” in its hierarchical order, standing out as “a rugged individualist in the crowd of boy wonder choreographers” (to quote L.A. Dance Chronicle), making the bold move to leave New York City Ballet for dance opportunities in California, and ultimately starting her own company.

“It’s interesting having female leadership in your life,” she says. “You grow up knowing and feeling, like, ‘Oh yeah, I could do something, I could be the leader. I could take charge.’ … I never was under the impression at all that because you’re a woman you can’t achieve what you want to achieve.”

She hopes her company can continue to break the mold with the presentation of repertoire that allows her dancers — skilled technicians but individualistic “black sheep” or “outcasts” like herself, she says — to stretch and show off their unique talents and abilities.

“My mission was to not make a cookie-cutter company,” says Barak. “For me, it’s exciting to work with dancers who have a little fight in them and they’ve got a little attitude — as long as it’s a good attitude. I like working with dancers that have a voice.”

Barak Ballet presents “New Repertoire” at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (June 28 & 29) at The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $45 to $75 at barakballet.org.

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