Homecoming for an accidental choreographer

Barak Marshall returns to California after an eight year-long hiatus

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Marshall is older, braver, and more self-aware.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BARAK MARSHALL

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Choreographer Barak Marshall knows a thing or two about what he calls "umbilical whiplash." The son of Yemenite-Israeli choreographer Margalit Oved, Marshall happened upon his dance voice while accompanying his mother for a 1994 visit with the Inbal Dance Company in Israel. Since then, Marshall has been creating his own dances, working as the first house choreographer for Ohad Naharin's Batsheva Dance Company in 1999, and more recently arriving with his own company at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv, the beating heart of the Israeli dance community. The choreographer, who grew up in Los Angeles, enjoys a homecoming to California this week, presenting his work for the first time in the United States with a tour of Monger. The work will be performed Thursday, May 19 at the Marines Memorial Theatre as part of the 2011 San Francisco International Arts Festival.

"I basically spent the majority of my childhood bopping around on a red school bus with 10 to 15 dancers touring as a company throughout the United States ... I slept more on the floors of performance halls than in my own bed at home in L.A.," Marshall recalled. Growing up in the middle of a dance company was one reason Marshall never wanted to dance. It was his mother's thing. "She is the most prolific dance creator I've ever met and also the most powerful performer I've ever seen onstage. I have an enormous amount of respect for her.

"And we have the natural tension that goes along with a mother-son relationship," he added. "She's incredibly supportive and also critical. She helps me get better, so it's a good relationship."

After breaking his leg in 2000, Marshall took a hiatus from choreography, which makes Monger his first work in eight years. "Coming back at a more mature age has allowed me to honestly pursue the stories and the languages and make the statement I want to make. I'm also a little more brave. Monger is about people who do not have any control over their own destiny. The struggle for self-determination. It addresses the issue of how much of our lives are controlled by others." The narrative work is set to a collage of music that includes works by Taraf de Haidouk, Balkan Beat Box, the Yiddish Radio Project, Margalit Oved, Handel, and Verdi.

Marshall's culture, as well as his studies in social theory and philosophy at Harvard University, continue to influence the content of his work. "For me it really is genetic and unavoidable to use my ethnic resources — my Yemenite heritage and my Israeli heritage — as a basis for the movement language. I'm excited to constantly go back and research these stories as a fertile resource." In an effort to develop a distinct vocabulary, Marshall builds his own movement, often teaching it to a single dancer to get a general sense of structure. He then sets sections on a larger group to play with and refine the choreography.

Reflecting on his time as the house choreographer for Ohad Naharin's Batsheva Dance Company, Marshall said, "A wonderful thing I learned there is the totality of the Batsheva dancer, of the Israeli dancer, that is so much a signature of that company. Ohad as a mentor was wonderful. He really allows you to figure it out with very kind nudges and challenging questions."

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