Bringing ballet to Beethoven: Melissa Barak @ the L.A. Phil

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We chatted recently with Melissa Barak, artistic director of Barak Ballet, concerning her upcoming choreographic contribution to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s annual gala concert September 29 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The festive all-Beethoven program includes not only the Philharmonic but its conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, doing double duty with the Simon Boliivar Symphony of Venezuela. Barak will provide the visual element in a ballet set on a stage before the symphony orchestra in our pristine concert hall.

What’s your brief for the project, Melissa?

It’s an all-Beethoven program, and I was invited to choreograph two sections from the maestro’s “Creatures of Prometheus.”

Your dancers will perform to live music by a big band – and a pretty good one. The L.A. Philharmonic!

I know, right!!?? And conducted by one of the greatest conductors in the world!

Beethoven composed “Creatures” as a ballet – his only ballet.

I was excited, in doing my research, to learn that. The original ballet wasn’t very well documented, and needless to say there was no video! I did find some program descriptions. I want to stick with the Greek theme of Prometheus, and that time period with movement and costumes inspired by certain mythological stories, painting or sketches.

Another choreographer went that route: Mr. Balanchine!

Indeed he did, although I did not work directly for Mr. B. when I danced with NYCB.

Tell us what you are developing.

la follia - barak balletI have two pieces of music to choreograph. Together they total 14 minutes of choreography, which is substantial. For the ensemble piece (set to “Creatures” second-act finale), I am using five dancers. That music has a jubilant, upbeat mood. The other piece will either be a solo or a duet (I haven’t figured that out yet). That one has a little more musical range; there is more lyricism and ‘flow parts.’ It also gets quicker at times. Especially for the ensemble ballet, the music is very classical; it has that even tempo. I don’t want to call it simple, but it has that purely classical sound. Nowadays so much choreography is done to contemporary music, so it is nice to revisit musical classicism to see how dance will look to a strong classical work. But I still intend my choreography to be modern, contemporary and fresh.

Any challenges?

The choreography will be presented on a stage erected in front of the Phil. It’s a fairly shallow space, 8 feet deep bit 40 feet wide. I have never choreographed anything that accommodates limited depth so it forces me to think differently, choreographically.

Final thoughts?

Just that I am very honored that Barak Ballet was invited be part to the Philharmonic’s special night. And very excited to work to great classical music.

Photo credit: New York Times

The Brilliance of Beethoven | Los Angeles Philharmonic gala | Sept 29

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