As one of the most sought after dancers turned choreographers in the United States, Melissa Barak has built an empire cultivating relationships with her audiences via ballet through her cutting-edge dance company, Barak Ballet. Having being featured in such publications as Los Angeles Times Magazine and DANCE Magazine, Barak is continuing to foster the growth of her company by showcasing her talents on February 6th-7th 2015 at The Broad Stage in Los Angeles for 2 shows.
Drawn in to the art of dance at 8 years old, Barak began her career in Los Angeles learning from the illustrious Yvonne Mounsey at the Westside School of Ballet. Her passion eventually took her to New York to study at the School of American Ballet and eventually earned her a spot at the New York City Ballet where she remained for the next 9 years and became known for her linear purity, relentless work ethic, and musicality.It was there that she began exploring her choreographic talents and at the unprecedented age of 21, with her consistently outstanding performances allowed her to be commissioned for an original work for the company, making her the youngest choreographer in New York City Ballet history. Upon realizing her talent for choreography, Barak continued creating new works for various companies including the American Repertory Ballet, Sacramento Ballet, and Los Angeles Ballet, as well as luminaries such as Misty Copeland, Benjamin Millipied (Black Swan) and principle NYCB dancers Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, and Robert Fairchild. With this unparalleled success, Barak felt it was time to branch out on her own to build a dance company that flourishes from personal philosophies deeply rooted in true collaboration, individuality and artistic maturity. In 2013, she founded Barak Ballet and has made its mission to envision, develop and perform contemporary dance interpretations for the modern age.
When she’s not busy performing and creating visual art, Melissa can be found volunteering for various animal rights groups and playing with her cat, which she rescued herself while living in New York as a dancer.
It was such a pleasure to sit down and chat with Melissa. Her incredible drive and passion for bringing emotion alive on stage is irresistible. Melissa puts her heart and soul into creating artistry through her dancers and work. I am so happy to be able to share this interview with you, a true artist and inspiration in my eyes………..
BB411~ Has dance always been a part of your life, how did that all come to be?
MB~ It started as a little girl dancing in the living room for my mom. My sister and I would partner together and do shows for my mother and grandmother. My mother watched me dance around the house and noticed I had talent (as every mother does) and got me into ballet classes at the age of 4. I actually didn’t love ballet at the beginning, I found it kind of boring and stopped after a year. At age 6 after continuing to dance around the house, my mom decided to put me back in and it stuck ever since! It was when I was 8 and enrolled in Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica that things got much more serious.
BB411~ Who did you look up to growing up or inspire to be?
MB~ When I was young at Westside, I was 8/9 years old and very impressionable and looked up to the advanced dancers. Many of them went on to serious companies. They made an impression on me and gave me goals for something to work towards. As I got older and was becoming more aware at the ballet world at large, I looked up to Darci Kistler. I saw Julie Kent perform live and she has always been someone I look up to as well. Both women are fantastic.
BB411~ What do you love most about dance and being a choreographer?
MB~ As a dancer- the performance aspect, performing for an audience (live) with the music and being in a role that you love with choreography that really fits you. It takes you to a spiritual place. It’s a very freeing, quite, euphoric place. Dancing provides that euphoria, a real sort of happiness, being one with yourself and getting lost in the music. Choreography is fulfilling but in a different way. I’m very much into competition, my personality is about making sense out of disorder, organizing. I get fulfillment out of creating pictures, images, and an environment on stage using music that I love. What motivated me to move as a dancer, music motivates me to create as a choreographer. To sit back and watch it all come to life on stage is an accomplishment, a real joy.
BB411~ What is the greatest lesson dance has taught you?
MB~ 1. A determined mindset. You need to be persistent, there’s no such thing as giving up. The constant reach for the betterment of your artistry/technique. 2. Practicing patience. Some people rise slowly, others dancers rise more quickly, some have strengths that others don’t. It’s really about being persistent, determined, but also being patient with yourself. Excepting who you are, your abilities and limitations.
BB411~ Living in NYC and studying at the New York City Ballet, you became the youngest choreographer. What was that experience like?
MB~ It was awesome and it was scary. It was incredibly cool, a huge honour and a sense of accomplishment for sure. But being so young I didn’t quite feel ready for all of that attention and to have my work on one of the biggest stages in the world. Lincoln Center (are you kidding), it was a lot of pressure on somebody who wasn’t even quite sure what kind of choreographer she was. I wouldn’t change anything though, it forced me to be brave at a young age and take chances. I felt torn as I still very much wanted to dance but the focus was on my choreography from my director. I am grateful to him for giving me my choreography career.
BB411~ How was your company The Barak Ballet born?
MB~ It was a few years ago that my time with Los Angeles Ballet was coming to an end. And I was at a place in my life that I was deciding what I wanted to do; join another company, audition, or get into something completely different (interior design has always interested me). But then I had been playing with the idea of starting my own company. Out of all the things I was considering getting into, that really inspired me. It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to start a company of my own. I had thought about it in previous years, coming back to LA and creating a company I grew up in. It was at that time, my dance career had come to an end, and it was at that time that I considered such a move. It just seemed to make sense, it just felt right. As soon as I started putting pen to paper and writing out my mission statement, it all started exciting me. It grew from an idea to people jumping on board. It’s something that inspired me and still inspires me.
BB411~ You have worked with some incredible dancers Misty Copeland, Benjamin Millipied (Black Swan) and principle NYCB dancers Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, and Robert Fairchild. Who have you not worked with but is on the top of your list?
MB~ Maria Kochetkova is incredible from San Francisco ballet. Actually San Francisco Ballet has a lot of incredible dancers I’d like to work with; Sofiane Sylve, Yuan Yuan Tan, there all exceptional! Wendy Wayland, she’s just an amazing, amazing artist. Also she loves to work with choreographers and would look good in anything created.
BB411~ What advice do you give for young ballerinas or people with a passion for dance that are starting out?
MB~ I’d tell them to just focus on themselves, try not to look around and see how quickly other dancers are moving forward in their progress. Dancers grow at various rates and it’s super important to not compare yourself to others. You look, you watch, and you want to learn from other dancers but you don’t want to directly compare yourself. Because again, you could have strengths they don’t have and you don’t want to diminish what you have. You have to stay focused, better yourself, focus on improving, and try not to compare cause that can really destroy you.
BB411~ How did your parents influence the person you are today?
MB~ My Mom always believed in me and boosted my confidence. She always tried to be very honest and subjective with me. Hearing her encouragement throughout the years really gave me a sense that I had something special.
BB411~ What do you do to stay fit and healthy?
MB~ I try to eat super healthy and well-rounded. I don’t deprive myself of anything, I eat chocolate, fruits, vegetables, I enjoy eating sensible and in moderation. I stay away from anything processed and eat organic as much as possible. I enjoy pilates, I’m really lucky I have my best friend Andie Hecker who owns a pilates studio, Ballet Bodies in LA. I stays active through pilates, hiking and gyrokinesis, which is a form of yoga, tai chi, gymnastics, and dance. I enjoy activities that are low impact.
BB411~ Describe your style?
MB~ If I go out, I would say city-urban chic, east meets west coast sort of vibe. During the day, I’d say California girl.
BB411~ Top 3 things every woman should have in her wardrobe?
MB~ Nice blazer, hot pair of jeans (that make your booty look good and legs look long) and a pair of nude heels.
BB411~ Bare feet, socks or stilettoes?
MB~ Ballet Slippers
BB411~ What does the word “beauty” mean to you?
MB~ Confidence, Graciousness and Compassion define beauty.
BB411~ What inspires you personally and professionally?
MB~ I get inspired by people’s innovation. So professionally, If I’m observing (especially in terms of choreography), I loving seeing what can be created and done. I love the book that came out on Steve Jobs; he was this guy that had an idea and who just had a knack for business, marketing and product that people wanted. Innovation has really inspired me, other people’s, whether it be artistic, technological, scientific, I find that really cool.
BB411~ Are you involved in any charities that are close to your heart?
MB~ I support various animal wellness charities. My schedule doesn’t allow me a lot of free time, but when I can, I try to attend events that support great causes. Animal welfare, the prevention of animal cruelty are the causes very close to my heart.
BB411~ What is your skin care regime?
BB411~ What are your go to hair products?
MB~ Right now I’m using Pantene, it adds extra moisture to my hair. I like to change my hair products regularly.
BB411~ #1 beauty product you could not live without?
MB~ Vaseline, I use it on my lips, cuticles and sometimes as an eye moisturizer. Vaseline is universal and inexpensive.
BB411~ Do any certain scents remind you of your childhood?
MB~ The smell of freshly cut grass, brings me back to being younger. Also the smell of rose, there use to be a store in a mall that was decorated all in pink (girlie) and whenever I smell rose I think of that store. It was one of my favourites.
BB411~ What is your favorite fragrance?
BB411~ 3 words that best describe you?
MB~ Loyal, Genuine and Honest!
BB411~ Fun fact that people may not know about you?
MB~ I love the saxophone. I have also always loved the sound of the accordion and bagpipe as instruments too.
BB411~ If you could tell your younger self something you have learned and know now what would it be?
MB~ Not to give up, you have to work your ass off. Nothing comes easy (laughs).
BB411~ Favorite quote?
MB~ Favourite quote I have on my desktop is by Woody Allen “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
BB411~ Favorite food?
MB~ Pizza & Dark Chocolate
BB411~ Favourite colour?
MB~ I know it’s technically not a colour, but I like black.
BB411~ What are the key points to being a good role model?
MB~ Being supportive and honest.
BB411~ #1 thing you want to cross off your bucket list?
MB~ I’d like to go on a safari in Tanzania (Greek Islands is a close second)
BB411~ Describe your perfect day (when you have down time)?
MB~ Start the day with a good, healthy breakfast, pack up a small bag of my beauty essentials and head to Olympic Spa in Korea town, LA. It’s a stay cation, filled with pools, saunas and their milk and honey body smoothie treatment. They also have this warm floor that you can have a nap on after your treatment. It’s pretty Kick-Ass!
BB411~ What has been your biggest Aha Moment so far in life?
MB~ Take with a grain of salt anything a man tells you, don’t take it to heart!
BB411~ What advice would you give entrepreneurs starting out that are following their dreams?
MB~ Be determined, work hard and you have to make sure it’s something you are going to enjoy putting a lot of time into. As long as you know this is a passion of yours, you’re going to enjoy the hard work. Certainly the bumps in the road can’t get you down. You have to be able to weather any storm that comes.
BB411~ Where do you see yourself in 1 year, 5 years and 10 years?
MB~ When I was younger I use to set goals, but now I live day by day. Right now my focus is on ballet of course and in 5 years I’d love to see my company continuing to grow with great dancers, opportunities, exciting audiences around the world by then and being happy (that’s the biggest, most important thing). One, five and ten years all I really want is to feel fulfilled and happy. And what ever way that happens, whether I’m married, single, Barak ballet’s a success or I move to Portland Oregon, I just want to feel fulfilled!
BB411~ When I say the words #lovethis, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
MB~ Funny Cat videos on You Tube, I’m a fan
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