Soloist to choreographer: Melissa Barak
Los Angeles Ballet leading soloist Melissa Barak was in the audience last Saturday night instead of onstage with her compatriots premiering the New Wave LA program at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Barak is an up-and-coming choreographer and she was on leave from LAB this spring to create a piece for New York City Ballet’s new dance festival. “Call Me Ben” premieres June 5.Barak was a member of New York City Ballet for nine years, and as with other choreographers to come out of the company built by George Balanchine, critics have noted his influence in her work. With each new each ballet, however, Barak distinguishes her own style – clean, dramatic and with a sophisticated use of space and many dancers -- and imprints her own personality on her work.
For “Call Me Ben,” she has choreographed a ballroom-dance style pas de deux. Principal dancer Jenifer Ringer, the piece’s central ballerina, will wear character shoes instead of toe shoes.
In addition to Balanchine, Barak also admires the ballets of the late Jerome Robbins, and regrets never having been cast in any of his ballets while she was at City Ballet. Her earliest dance inspiration came from the movie musicals her mother gave her to watch, including “Gigi,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and the two “That’s Entertainment” movies.
“Choreography to me requires structure (whether contemporary or classical, abstract or literal) fused with purpose, intent and a real relationship to the music or sounds, and the other dancers,” she said. “A common thread that follows a piece from the beginning till the very end. Most people crave order. I feel any type of art that resonates with people usually has a clear, orderly message about it... no BS."
To read my full Arts & Books profile of Barak and her new piece -- about Bugsy Siegel! -- click here.
Photo: Barak rehearsing with the New York City Ballet
Credit: Paul Kolnik/N.Y. City Ballet