Faces to Watch 2014: Dance | Josie Walsh, Melissa Barak and more
The Times asked its reporters and critics to highlight figures in entertainment and the arts who will be making news in 2014. Here’s who they picked:
Josie Walsh and Melissa Barak | Artistic director-choreographer; artistic director-choreography-dancer
There’s an undeniable synchronicity to the career arcs of Los Angeles natives Josie Walsh and Melissa Barak. They are alumnae of Westside Ballet; both became ballerinas with prominent national companies — Walsh with Joffrey Ballet and Barak with New York City Ballet. Then in 2010, Walsh got a commission from Los Angeles Ballet and cast Barak (then a soloist with LAB) in a leading part. Now, these outspoken women are forging against the local head winds and heading up their own contemporary troupes, Walsh’s Ballet Red and Barak’s Barak Ballet.
Walsh is known for her provocative, sensual, contemporary-mélange style — rather than defy gravity, her dancers often give into it, performing lowered on the floor. She collaborates with other artists and with her husband, rock musician Paul Rivera Jr., a.k.a. Jealous Angel.
The award-winning Barak has a sophisticated and complex style that is nonetheless warm and human. She exhibits a keen intuition of how movement affects an audience. Each woman is planning (separate) concerts in June at the Broad Stage. “If I can find that raw, visceral internal dialogue through totally contemporary movement and fuse it through the ballet syllabus, that has been my path,” Walsh said. In addition to creating new work for her own company, Barak has commissions from Sacramento Ballet and Richmond Ballet in 2014. And she has found an interim executive director, Christopher Clinton Conway, a onetime Joffrey Ballet administrator. Said Barak: “I want nothing more than to give L.A. its own unique ballet company.”
Nikolai Tsiskaridze | Dancer
Nikolai Tsiskaridze began the 21st century as arguably the greatest Russian danseur of his generation: a 6-foot-1, perfectly proportioned, brilliantly trained star of the Bolshoi Ballet as well as someone who would quickly become a respected ballet coach and a popular television celebrity. But eclipsing those excellences in the next decade was his role as the Edward Snowden of Russian dance. At great personal risk, Tsiskaridze refused to be silent about the corruption he found at the Bolshoi in the treatment of the dancers and the remodeling of the theater, to name a few. His unrelenting accusations led to his dismissal from the company.
Some of them involved the crime that had everyone in the ballet world talking and texting for almost a year. On Jan. 17, the Bolshoi’s artistic director was nearly blinded by an acid-throwing assailant — a scandal that exposed just how venomous the conflicts in the company had become. Tsiskaridze testified for the prosecution at the recently concluded trial of the accused perpetrators. But he stayed in the news for more reasons than his testimony. Suddenly, he was appointed the head (“acting rector”) of what is widely regarded as the greatest ballet school in the world: the Vaganova Academy in Saint Petersburg, affiliated with the Mariinsky Ballet (formerly the Kirov).
Tsiskaridze is much loved as a guest artist with the Mariinsky, and that company has given him roles that were denied him at the Bolshoi. But the bedrock differences in style between the companies has made his new position controversial in the extreme, so you can bet he’ll remain in the news — as reliably dramatic in his speech as he always was in his dancing.
August Bournonville | Choreographer
August Bournonville died in 1879, but memories of this great Danish ballet choreographer are likely to be alive and well in May and June when Los Angeles Ballet presents his two-act masterwork “La Sylphide” in four theaters throughout Southern California.
Bournonville’s classical style is not as bold or space-devouring as Russian classicism, but it emphasizes intricacy and effervescence, qualities hard to master by dancers trained in other techniques. In the distant past, Los Angeles audiences saw a stylistically clueless “La Sylphide” by American Ballet Theatre and a hopelessly crude production by the Bolshoi Ballet. But Los Angeles Ballet’s performances in 2009 were exemplary, among the finest achievements in this company’s history. The late spring staging will again be by Thordal Christensen, Los Angeles Ballet artistic director and a former artistic director (1999-2002) of the Royal Danish Ballet, Bournonville’s home company.
Based on a French original, the work itself is a high-Romantic dance drama from 1836 about a young Scot who has everything he needs, including a girl who loves him. But even on his wedding day, he dreams of something more: an ideal love from a parallel universe. And when that dream girl flies in at his window, demanding that he leave his old life behind, the results are momentous for everyone.
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