From L.A., Wiebke catches up with Melissa Barak during a rehearsal to talk about Barak’s life as a female choreographer and artistic director of her own ballet company:
The dance scene in Los Angeles is currently abuzz with emerging talent, and Melissa Barak is leading the way. One of the L.A. Times’s ‘Faces to Watch in 2013’, Barak has come to prominence with the inauguration of her own troupe, The Barak Ballet. In a city full of start-ups, she has managed to carve out her own space with the help of strong local ties and a commitment to new works.
The company’s next performance takes place tomorrow (24 October) and will be a mixed-bill called L.A. Moves, with works by Barak and Pascal Rioult. Barak will also perform a solo herself, created by Danielle Agami of Ate9 Dance Company, another female choreographer making a name for herself in town.
Los Angeles is…
“I think a lot of people recognize this city and California in general as a place full of energy and a breeding ground for innovation. There is opportunity for fresh ideas and unconventional approaches behind every corner. The city has a liberal mindset, where free spirits are embraced. It lacks an archaic system and standard formula. Los Angeles to me is youthful – a place where people look to the horizon, their eyes firmly set on the future.”
The Good and The Bad
“A lack of structure is great for artists to develop their work without constraint. It may be a challenge for the arts in general though: it is very hard to pin down a system where the culture of dance can exist.”
Working with Danielle Agami
“It has been very interesting to work with Danielle. It is not just the movement language that is vastly different from mine, but also her thought process. The motivation behind movement is crucial: why do you move, what matters, what draws people in? What draws people into her choreography is different from what I have known as a performer. As a young ballet dancer you’re taught to be gregarious and presentational. With her, it is not about showing off but about investigating internal landscapes. It is a deeply personal experience – even the smallest detail has to matter.”
Well of Inspiration
“As a choreographer, I am inspired by music. Maria Newman is a local composer, whose work I am using for my piece. She grew up here in Malibu and comes from a legendary music family – her father is Alfred Newman. She is an exceptional violinist as well as composer. This city is a well of inspiration: most of the artists involved in this program are L.A. natives or have ties within the community. That is why I chose to call the program L.A. Moves.”
The Person Within
“I like to work with personalities – dancers with musicality and maturity who ‘own’ their movement. I love it when dancers allow me to see the person within. I don’t care for robots and I don’t think anybody really does. When I watch a ballet, I want to see more than great dancers. I want to see people. I want to connect on a human level rather than just being in awe of ability – like extension, feet and tricks.”
Women in Choreography
“When I was younger and people asked me if it is harder to be a women in this field of work, I always replied that it doesn’t make any difference. Ten years later, there is no doubt in my mind that it is actually harder to get work as a female choreographer. Peter Martins gave me great opportunities while I was based in New York. At that time in my life, I wanted to focus on dancing and I made that very clear to him. I was only 22 and not ready to give up performing! I knew I couldn’t wear both hats – choreographer and dancer – it had to be one or the other. I was too overwhelmed and I cared about both very much. It felt wrong to split my focus between the two.”
“At 27, my desire to dance more had grown so strong that I left NYCB to pursue my dance career elsewhere [Barak danced with Los Angeles Ballet for four years, and was also with Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses]. I see my male colleagues get commissions left and right. That is a big part of the motivation to start my own company. I just like being able to take the future into my own hands.”
On the Horizon
“For now, I hope to develop our audience base further and to receive some good feedback after the performance. I hope the community will get behind us to help us grow. We’ll see if people want us to become a steady part of the L.A. culture landscape.”
About the Author:
Wiebke Schuster currently lives in Los Angeles. She completed her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Dance Theatre and studied Arts Administration at the Limón Dance Company in New York. Follow her on Twitter @wiebela.