On August 24, the Los Angeles Ballet Board of Directors announced that Melissa Barak would be its new Artistic Director. The California native, who has run her own Los Angeles-based company Barak Ballet since 2013, has won acclaim for her choreographic talent and artistic voice and is no stranger to Los Angeles’ diverse creative community. She succeeds founding co-artistic directors Colleen Neary and Thordal Christensen, who left Los Angeles Ballet this summer.
Barak began her ballet training at the Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica, under Yvonne Mounsey and Rosemary Valaire, before moving to New York to attend the School of American Ballet. After graduation, she joined the New York City Ballet, where Peter Martins, then head ballet master, gave her choreographic opportunities for SAB and company. She joined Los Angeles Ballet in 2006 as a dancer before launching Barak Ballet, which is now on hold as she moves into her new position.
I recently spoke with Barak about his plans for the company. (Although we’ve both danced with the Los Angeles Ballet before, we’ve never worked together.) Below, she shares how she’s adjusting to her new position and her vision for the company’s future. .
How has your transition to artistic direction at Los Angeles Ballet been so far?
The dancers return to the studio on September 19, so right now I’m just getting to know the staff and preparing for the upcoming season. Everyone is thrilled to work with and really excited about this new chapter – having a great time so far!
As a former member of the company, how does it feel to be back at the helm of this company?
As a dancer you have little influence, but as a director you can really steer an organization in any direction, so that’s exciting. LA deserves a world-renowned company, so I’m very glad I was asked to take the reins and lead us there. I was part of the company’s very first advocacy program, so it’s come full circle!
The Los Angeles Ballet’s repertoire included classical works and the Balanchine repertoire in the past. How do you see the rep changing under your leadership?
This season [which was programmed by previous co-directors Colleen Neary and Thordal Christensen] is more of a transition year for me. But moving forward, I would like to expand the repertoire. I want us to do everything from experimental work to story ballets or reinvented classics. There are certain neoclassical choreographers that I would like to bring. As for Balanchine, I’m definitely a fan; I don’t see the repertoire being as balanchine as it was, but some of his ballets will certainly be presented. I seek to make a well-balanced repertoire, and I hope that this will attract not only strong dancers but really invested artists.
How does it feel to get to know a new group of dancers and staff?
It’s a challenge for any director to work with a group of dancers you don’t know. I couldn’t hire any of them, but I’m certainly looking forward to meeting everyone. I asked them to send me videos of their dance to help me get to know them and understand how they work. Once back in the studio, it will be easier to know them. I had a wonderful dynamic with my dancers at Barak Ballet, and I’m sure we’ll be back with the dancers at LA Ballet. They seem excited and inspired by new energy, and they all seem to really want to work.
What’s so exciting to me is that this company is ready to take off – it has a solid financial base, solid staff and really motivated people behind it. The growth potential is very inspiring.
According Data Dance Projectthe Los Angeles Ballet is one of the 50 largest companies in the United States. Are there any specific opportunities or challenges to be faced in this role of female artistic director?
When I started choreographing at NYCB, I was asked this question all the time, and I was very confused – why would I ever think I couldn’t do it? Just because I’m a woman? Of course, I could do it. There was never any doubt in my mind. Rock [Martins] I saw a person with choreographic ability and talent, and that’s why he gave me so many amazing opportunities. I had my share of failures, but I never gave up. I look forward to building this business step by step – every day, every relationship and every opportunity that comes our way are small building blocks towards a bigger goal. A challenge is that people want things to change [under a new director] right away. I see this as something I want to build and commit to for the long term.
Do you see ways to expand the company’s reach within the Los Angeles creative community?
Of course, I seek to establish partnerships and collaborate with various local artists and institutions. There are so many creative people here, so many cool spaces, so many artistic and creative possibilities. We want to tap into everything. I would like to see us go beyond the forefront in various venues and platforms.
The possibilities of each creative medium are endless. Movies, video, virtual reality – I love bouncing other people’s ideas around and I already have a lot of things I want to implement. The LA Ballet staff members have wonderful ideas, and I already have people contacting me with ways to work together. I have to see what will work for us, but it’s exciting to think outside the box and figure out where we should go. LA has such a large audience, but I want there to be something for everyone to enjoy.