This October, ballet dancer turned choreographer Melissa Barak will formally launch her Los Angeles based company, Barak Ballet, with a performance at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. A former member of New York City Ballet and Los Angeles Ballet, Barak tested the waters with a smaller presentation last March at the more intimate Ann and Jerry Moss Theater. "That first show created a lot of excitement and buzz for us," says Barak. Confident that her audience and support base is growing, she's eager to showcase her dancers in a larger venue. The Broad is "more conventional" as a theater than the Moss, she says, and will give her more freedom to stage ballets and include live music. The October program will include two pieces choreographed by Barak and a work by contemporary choreographer Pascal Rioult. Also included is a six-minute solo by Barak that was choreographed by Israeli choreographer (and recent Los Angeles transplant) Danielle Agami. The solo marks Barak's first time onstage since 2011. "When I was putting this performance together a lot of people were asking, when are you going to dance again?" she says.
In choosing Agami, a former member of Israel's renowned Batsheva Dance Company, to choreograph for her, Barak opted to step way outside of her comfort zone. Barak has a traditional ballet resume while Agami, 28, comes from a completely different place, literally and creatively. Batsheva, founded in 1964 as a modern repertory company, was initially shaped by Martha Graham, who served as artistic advisor. Today it is directed by innovative choreographer Ohad Naharin, who developed a unique movement language for his dancers called "gaga." During gaga class, unlike in ballet class, mirrors are forbidden. Naharin has said that gaga "is about clarity of form that doesn't come from looking at yourself but from really sensing where you are in space. It's about delicacy, small gestures, and thinking about movement as something that can heal...It's about giving the dancers the sense that they can go beyond familiar limits on a daily basis. It's about listening to something that is beyond the athletic side of the dancer." It is this movement language that Agami now utilizes in her own Los Angeles based company Ate9.
Barak first saw Agami and her company perform their production of Sally Meets Stu last February at the Los Angeles Theater Center. She had no idea what she was in for, knowing nothing about Agami or her history with Batsheva. "Two minutes in they really had my attention," Barak said. I loved what Danielle brought out of her dancers. I knew this was special and whoever created this was incredibly talented. So I reached out to her."
Before she would agree to work with Barak, Agami requested that she take her gaga class. "It felt overwhelming and awkward," says Barak. "It's the opposite of ballet..you have so much freedom that you don't know what to do with. I've always looked at myself from the outside, the lines, etc. I'm about the pointe shoes and the music. With her work it's so much more about internalizing, reacting to feelings and emotions from a more human, primitive place. I knew I would grow as an artist working with Danielle...opening up my mind and my approach to what it is to be a human body on a stage."
Says Agami, "It was interesting for me to work with a ballerina. It's not about what her body can or cannot do-it's about breaking her mind. I need to make her change her mind...how she thinks and approaches things. It's almost like therapy. We became friends because it's really about letting go."
In addition to collaborating, the two women have bonded over the challenges of starting a dance company in Los Angeles. "We shared some difficulties in being that 'one-woman show'...where you have to do everything and how we're waiting for the day we will be more about the art and the creation." said Agami. For the time being, Barak, 34, is excited about the inclusion of Agami's point of view in the upcoming performance. "I want my company to be not just my choreography, but about what's new, what other choreographic voices are interesting and what challenges they are trying to present."
The Barak Ballet will perform "LA Moves" on Thursday, October 24th at 8pm at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.