BWW Review: BARAK BALLET BOURREES BACK TO THE BROAD WITH NEW REPERTOIRE at The Broad Stage
Melissa Barak's Ballet Company, Barak Ballet, is becoming a staple at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
Since 2013, they have been appearing annually and she has continually delivered her talent and creativity to her home town. A native Santa Monican, she is now one of America's foremost rising female choreographers. Ms. Barak spent a decade dancing for New York City Ballet and choreographing for the School and Company of American Ballet at age 22. And her tenacity has paid off.
On the program were three new works, the first being choreographed by South African born Andi Schermoly, entitled "Within Without," which explores the pain women endure when a pregnancy does not come to fruition; featuring Julia Erickson, Zachary Guthier and Stephanie Kim, to several haunting and beautiful pieces of music by Vivaldi, The Chopin Project and an operatic vocal solo "Cessate, omai cessate," it begins with a fervent female solo, very nicely done. All the dancers performed passionately, soloing and weaving in and out of different combinations in trios and duets that fit nicely with the dramatic violin (first solo) and hymn-like, solemn cello solos. Each section was cleanly done and filled with interesting and sharp port de bras positions with an angular look, as in the trio of ladies en pointe, with many difficult overhead lifts, and gorgeous attitude turns, quick beats, grand jetes and intricate floorwork by the men. The male dancers rotate, taking turns partnering the lead ballerina, then dancers Sadie Black, Andrew Brader, Jessica Gadzinski, Stephanie Hall and Francisco Preciado join in all together while the expressive operatic solo is sung, each dancer then following a different musical intruments' melody, quite effectively. There is a feeling of heaviness and a struggle of emotions to the movements throughout the piece. At one point, the five women cross the stage bent over forward, walking on their hands and toes with bent knees, to meet the men and intensely embrace. Another soaring lift section ensues, followed by the men taking turns again, all partnering the lead, ending with a tender pas de deux as she is carried off in a dramatic embrace.
Choreographer Ma Cong, in his Los Angeles debut, presented his powerful message of the importance of community support during a personal revolution; entitled "Carry Me Anew." Using selections of Nils Frahm's album "All Melody," and "A Place," it begins in a dim light with the dancers in a wide circle, facing outward, moving to a staccato rhythm in slow motion.
The tempo is bright in contrast with their legato movements, which eventually become faster as they break out into different groupings, sometimes two men and one woman, sometimes two men, lifting up each other, literally, amid floorwork, turns and contractions blending nicely into a group combination, partners doing the same lift at different times, with a constant urgency to what they are doing. The groups branch out to different parts of the stage doing vigorous floorwork, body rolls and some very agile lifts, one being a leap into a fish position with her partner flipping her upside down and over his shoulder, which was stunning. A very tight trio section with the ladies staying connected, supportive while they dance, followed by another nice men's section of leaps in a circle, then the three couples dance as the ladies are being turned across the floor, spun with their legs out in front of them, one toe touching the ground... Their movements become mime-ish, counterpointing each others' movements with the melody, working off one another, synchronizing with each other. The last section is filled with some fascinating lifts; a very tight company who do this choreographer's work splendidly. The dancers: Jessica Gadzinski, Dylan Gutierrez, Stephanie Kim, Jeraldine Mendoza, Robert Mulvey, Francisco Preciado and Evan Swenson.
The third and final premiering piece was choreographed by Melissa Barak to remixes of Terry Riley's "In C," done in four movements. "Pretty, Peculiar Things" was inspired by the artwork of Patrick Nagel, a Santa Monica based Artist. Having to do with the empowerment and appreciation of women, this piece reflects their beauty, strength, character and mystique.
Posed at the beginning, five dancers, arms laced together, bent forward wearing short black sundresses, pointe shoes and socks begin to dance as a unit until they break out of line one at a time, traveling diagonally to quick staccato beats in the music. The dancers included Lucia Connolly, Lauren Fadeley, Zachary Guthier, Brian Gephart, Dylan Gutierrez, Maine Kawashima, Jeraldine Mendoza, Robert Mulvey and Tiffany Smith. In the first movement, Maine Kawashima, a brilliant dancer, does a quick moving solo, her beats and rapid footwork tempered by the ensemble crossing behind her doing lifts, settling in front of a scrim that is backlit, making them appear as shadows. Ms. Kawashima pulls focus with her clean pas de chat, pirouette, chaine combination and deft footwork as she dances with each shadow figure down the line, hopping in fifth position en pointe while turning and then carried out above the other dancers..
In the second movement, the scrim has turned orange, emphasizing the male dancers in light blue leotards dancing first in straight lines and then changing it up, shuffling into a circle to a tense vibrating sound and no discernible rhythm, yet they are all perfectly in sync with each other. The three men, Dylan Guttierez, Brian Gephart and Robert Mulvey take turns lifting and partnering Jeraldine Mendoza, showcasing her beautiful lines, carrying her off stage up high. Lucia Connolly and Tiffany Smith do a brisk duet together, the tempo much brighter now, followed by the re-entrance of Jeraldine Mendoza partnered by the men again, them displaying her as if she is a goddess. She is an exquisite dancer.
The third movement features Lauren Fadeley and Zachary Guthier, in front of the now turned-pink scrim, appearing as shadows as they pas de deux together to first a harpsichord, then violins plucking their strings slowly at first, changing to lightning fast bowing as the two dance beautifully together, the choreography turning joyous and light. They work so nicely together. The other dancers return for a playful, uplifting ending to the section.
The finale of the piece, which includes the entire ensemble, in front of a blue scrim this time, is just a playfest of wonderful dancing and more delightful terpsichore, especially Maine Kawashima, who is an absolute joy to watch, and as pliable as a pretzel in this lively, athletic ending to my favorite piece of the evening. The dancers work hard and were rewarded with a standing ovation from a very appreciative audience!
Lighting Designer Nathan Scheuer highlighted the dancers nicely throughout. Costuming was a bit drab, although extremely functional, except for the last piece, which had some style and verve to the wardrobe, Designed by Holly Hynes.
I'm seeing a style emerging, and a correlation between the choreographers Ms. Barak shares the stage with. Her dancers are all very strong, clean, versatile and technically proficient and work seamlessly with each choreographer. Her choices in contributing artists blend nicely with her own choreography.
Looking forward to more creations from this wonderful company!
Photos courtesy of Cheryl Mann