Arts barakhome pix 5 12
Arts barakhome pix 5 12

Mover and shaker: Innovative choreographer brings acclaimed Israeli troupe to S.F.

Counterintuitive as it seems, choreographer Barak Marshall believes he has a distinct advantage over his peers: He has no training as a dancer.

That hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the most celebrated choreographers in Israel.

The son of Israeli modern dance pioneer Margalit Oved, Marshall has created a string of well-received pieces over the last 15 years, touring across Israel, Europe and North America.

One of his most acclaimed pieces, “Monger,” will have its Bay Area premiere with a Thursday, May 19 performance at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco. It’s part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, co-presented by the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the Consulate General of Israel, JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre in Tel Aviv.


The Barak Marshall Dance Theater premieres “Monger” in the Bay Area on May 19. photo/gadi dagon

“Monger” features 10 Israeli dancers, and like all of Marshall’s works, it tells a story. In this case, it’s an “Upstairs, Downstairs” tale of servants trapped in the basement of a house, ruled over by a cruel mistress. The music ranges from Roma and Balkan strains to hard rock.


“It’s a snapshot of life under the stairs,” Marshall says, “of the constant manipulation and abuse from a higher source.”

A punchy angularity typifies Marshall’s choreography. His dancers sweep, sway and swagger across the stage in double-time, communicating through movement right down to their fingertips.

“I work off gesture language,” he says. “The movement comes thankfully from my mother and her rich Yemenite heritage. Then there’s the vaudevillian shtick of talking with the hands. It’s very Jewish movement.”

Though he grew up in Los Angeles, Marshall, 42, headquartered his company in Tel Aviv, where he lives for much of the year. Why shlep 10,000 miles when he could have built his dance company in carefree California?


Barak Marshall photo/emily savage

“I’m a Zionist,” he says. “I love Israel. Tel Aviv is an incredibly vibrant, creative city. There’s something about Israeli dancers you don’t find anywhere else. They’re difficult. They’re demanding.”


He says that explains, in part, why Israeli dance has been so successful, both in Israel and around the world.

“We don’t have a very heavy history of dance technique,” Marshall says. “It’s a young country. In general, Israelis don’t have the tools. It’s an advantage, because you have to be very resourceful.”

Marshall may have come late to the bar, but growing up with his mother — the former artistic director of Israel’s famed Inbal Dance Theatre — he absorbed early on the aesthetics of dance.

He was always artistic, focusing at first on music. Marshall sang rock ’n’ roll, as well as the trilling Yemenite melodies of his ancestors (bolstering his vocal cred, he’s sung with Yo-Yo Ma and the Yuval Ron Ensemble). By 18, he discovered the late Israeli Yemenite singer Ofra Haza, and by his 20s he began exploring Yemenite dancing.

He broke into professional dancing in 1995 with his first original work, “Aunt Leah,” inspired by a beloved aunt. Though a novice, Marshall drew praise for the piece, winning competitions and having his work performed by the Inbal company.

That bit of beginner’s luck led to more commissions, more prizes and more international renown. In addition to founding his own company, Marshall has choreographed works for the Batsheva Ensemble, serving as that Israeli company’s house choreographer.

Marshall is quick to credit his mother — still dancing in her eighth decade –– for his dancing DNA as well as for providing constant inspiration.

“She’s a great friend,” he says. “Beyond being the No. 1 supporter of my work, she’s encouraged me to break new ground and never be satisfied.”

As the guy at the top of the Barak Marshall Dance Theater, he not only designs the steps, but he also has to keep the company in the black. In a tough economic climate, that can be challenging.

Even so, Marshall boasts that his company has given more than 80 performances in the last two years, a number he says would be impressive even for ensembles much better known than his.

That may have to do with the distinct dance style Marshall has forged over the years.

“You have to meticulously create your own voice,” he says. “I create every movement, research as much as I can, and then infuse it with meaning.”

“Monger,” by the Barak Marshall Dance Theater, will be performed 8 p.m. Thursday, May 19 at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., S.F. Tickets: $12-$25. Information: (800) 838-3006 or



Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.