Touching Again

Natalie Leibert and Anthony Pucci of Carmel Ballare practice at Hidden Valley. The venue more typically serves as a training ground for musicians, and now for dancers.

When Lillian Barbeito saw the stage at the Hidden Valley Institute of the Arts, she heard angels singing. But when the institute’s director Peter Meckel showed her the dormitories where dancers could sleep, Barbeito realized she found the place to cultivate locally performed, locally consumed art of dance.

“Never do people come together as much as through dance,” Barbeito says, sitting barefoot outside of the building where rehearsals for her new dance company Ballare Carmel have already started, drawing dancers ages 17 to 37 from around the world. Their shoes stand in a row by the entrance; the whole valley is listening to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater chosen for the practice. The dancers don’t mind dancing in a mask and the organizers don’t mind mopping the space three times a day. “It’s incredible that people can touch again,” Barbeito says.

Formerly co-artistic director of Los Angeles-based contemporary dance company BODYTRAFFIC, Barbeito moved to Carmel in August 2021. Since then she’s launched the Carmel Dance Festival – the first show was in late July – and will now introduce Ballare.

Ballare Carmel is a local dance company that will work with dancers from as far away as Canada and Taiwan. Its mission is to bring professional dancing at the highest level to the area and present it to the local community. Barbeito is interested in involving local dancers, she says, but concentrates on performing locally. The verb “ballare” means “to dance” in Latin.

Currently, together with London-born and Switzerland-based choreographer Ishan Rustem, the resident choreographer for the NW Dance Project in Portland who came to train with the 20 dancers selected for this iteration (not all of them will perform), Barbeito is creating a performance for the community on Saturday, Sept. 18.

“He is everything I ever dreamed of,” Barbeito says about Rustem, adding she wanted to work with him because of his kindness as an instructor and ability to empower young dancers of various backgrounds.

“To me, it’s a very simple formula,” Rustem says, giving the dancers a five-minute break (the music switching from haunting James Blake to cheerful early Erykah Badu). “Before I was a teacher, I was a student and I remember what worked for me.”

Rustem considers teaching the young generation his artistic responsibility. He also believes that trust, vulnerability and openness for information are important when passing knowledge. “It’s not fun when your teacher is a diva and that’s not the way to get the best out of people,” he says.

BALLARE CARMEL LAUNCH PARTY includes a 6:30pm silent auction and 7:30pm preview performance on Saturday, Sept. 18. Hidden Valley Theatre, 104 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. $25. 659-3115,

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