July 11, 2018
Contemporary ballet dancers often have a confident, assured quality that stares out at you, daring you to look away. The dancers of Barak Ballet are powerful, technically savvy dancers that know they are being watched, and they play to it.
The program opened with artistic director Melissa Barak's new work Cypher, with sometimes ominous electronic music by Molly Joyce and costumes by Holly Hines, turquoise blue leotards with bare legs and pointe shoes for the ladies - a contemporary ballet staple. A quirky, technically crystalline work with stark lighting by Nathan Scheuer, it showcased the dancers, especially in the duet by Brian Simcoe and Xuan Cheng (currently principals with Oregon Ballet Theatre). But it also had several ambiguous moments, that perhaps played to a secret code we were never fully aware of.
Nicholas Blanc's Desert Transport began with a warm, burnt orange lighting and music by Mason Bates with some "indigenous"-sounding vocals and movie soundtrack swells that seemed at odds with the American Southwest images that came to mind. The gorgeous costumes by Ruth Fentroy, simple leotards in metallic golds and oranges, moved with and flattered the dancers. The vocabulary was again "balletic contemporary," but with more modern floor work, and the challenge here was to discern a point of view: a solo woman is joined by her community, they gesture, cover their mouths, embrace, hold hands, dance in unison, but it's not clear why or where it is all going.
E/Space, was the most inventive of the evening, beginning with larger than life media designs by Refik Anadol: geometric and celestial projections on a front scrim that spiral with intensity and then reveal the dancers behind its spinning vortex. The dancers' attack the fiendishly fast neoclassical choreography with ease, and the implication of finely tuned ballet dancers at the heart of our rational universe is well-taken. Jorge Villarini expertly partnered Julia Erickson in sequences where they seem attracted each other and then repel like magnets with a playful urgency. The electronic score with piano by David Lawrence sounds appropriate, although the ubiquity of that kind of soundtrack makes all the works less memorable. In the end, the swirling projection comes back and reverses itself, and we wonder when we can enter that universe again.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson