Keeping good company Choreographer Melissa Barak discusses the state of ballet in Los Angeles as her dance company readies for a pair of world premieres at The Broad Stage
Just 34 years old, choreographer Melissa Barak is already celebrated as a rising star of American ballet.
But what is it like to stage the classical art form in present-day L.A.?
Barak, an instructor at Santa Monica’s Westside School of Ballet, introduced her upstart company Barak Ballet in March 2013 with a performance at the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater at New Roads School in Santa Monica. The event marked her successful segue from soloist to choreographer after nine years with the George Balanchine-founded New York City Ballet and several more with Los Angeles Ballet.
On Thursday, June 19, Barak Ballet marks another milestone with the debut of two new compositions, alongside performances of the classic pieces “Sentir em Nos” and “For Two,” at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
— Michael Aushenker
What about this program differs from works Barak Ballet has attempted before?
We’re presenting two never-before-seen works: one choreographed by me, another by New York-based choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie. Our styles are different. My work is more lyrical, neoclassical. His work is more contemporary. He has a background in theater, jazz and contemporary movements. It’s really beautiful and musical, and he knows the ballet vocabulary well.
We’ll be starting with my piece, followed by two duets, and then we’re closing with his new ballet. This isn’t the Barak Ballet’s first commission, but we’re after new people and new work for the company. Our whole real reason for being is to invite talented choreographers, taking [the form] into the next century and moving it forward.
How have you adapted to contemporary tastes in this and other programs?
I seek out every opportunity to expand myself and not stay in my comfort zone. I try to expose myself to as many other choreographers as possible. Every opportunity I have to create a new piece, I try to work with music that might be more challenging. I take my time with inventing instead of just doing it on autopilot. When I was younger, I tried to pump it out. Now I’m trying to explore how different things can be done.
How does L.A.’s ballet scene compare to New York’s?
In New York the dance market is saturated. There’s a lot going on. What’s exciting is we’re starting to see the seeds of real potential right now in L.A. For the first time, we’re seeing several viable young companies grow. L.A. has sort of become the breeding ground for tomorrow.
How has The Broad Stage changed the Westside’s cultural landscape over the past six years of its existence?
It’s a beautiful theater and helpful to a company like mine to be able to present ourselves in a professional light. Having that on the Westside allows for creation to happen.
Theater in general is still a difficult sell in L.A. The popping up of all-new venues is going to help the concert and dance scene for sure. The more good dance that people see, the easier it’ll be to build an audience for dance.
What have been the biggest challenges and rewards of running your own company?
The biggest challenge has been fundraising. The biggest reward has been hearing from the dancers how much they love working with me and the company. When I see smiles on their faces and how happy and grateful they are to be dancing, that’s what it’s about for me. That kind of energy brings out the best in me.
Barak Ballet performs at 8 p.m. on June 19 at The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $35, $45 and $95. Visit barakballet.org for tickets and information.