The audience holds its breath: Melissa Barak is balancing on the toes of one foot while sweeping a long blood-red velvet cape around her thigh. The leg alone is a sight – sculpted, thin muscles bulging even under the thick white tights. A miniscule skirt of thin white pleats covers the bottom of her leotard. The iridescent blood red bodice is tight around her chest. Ruby colored stones clutter her throat. Most magnificent is the massive headpiece – a white, towering, cylindrical construction with strategically placed ruby stones and black trim.
At last, with both feet and all toes on the floor the audience visibly relaxes. Melissa Barak flings the cape up triumphantly in a stunning pose. She is very much at home in the role of The Siren. At her feet wriggles and writhes a man clothed only in a dance-belt. They perform an intricate duet full of contortions, extensions and agonized expressions. The spectacle is magical and fantastical — of biblical proportions.
Nothing could be more fitting for a performance of “Prodigal Son,” a ballet choreographed by genius-extraordinaire George Balanchine for the Ballet Russes in 1929. The music lilts and audience members clench their armrests as the Siren coils her body around the Prodigal Son and ever so slowly descends to the floor in a ring around his body.
Suddenly, the intimate moment is disrupted by a zing! in the violins of Prokofiev’s lush, vibrant score. A mass of new characters enter the stage — the Prodigal Son’s “Drinking Companions.” As such, they are comical and frequently outrageous. They dance with wacky gestures, primitive stomping and carefree springs. How will the majestic Siren respond to such fools? She alternates between coolly tolerating them and ordering them around with decisively off balance steps. They are in tune to her every need, carrying her cape and lifting her high above their heads like a queen. Indeed, she rules the stage. Just as she lures the Prodigal Son into debauchery, she lures the audience into a wondrous, voluptuous experience.
Originally written Spring 09 for “Narrative Journalism” at Occidental College.