The world-renowned choreographer on breaking dance traditions using movement and visual arts and his company’s Dallas debut on the TITAS Presents series.
Dallas — Since its inception in 2014, Ezralow Dance has garnered a reputation both in the U.S. and abroad for its explosive physicality, original thought and playful humor, which all stem from the mind of artistic director and choreographer, Daniel Ezralow. The Los Angeles-based company is comprised of nine dancers performing works that mingle contemporary dance with humor, provocative ideas and impressive video projections. The company also aims to collaborate with performers, composers, visual artists and filmmakers to transport audiences to new dimensions, exploring and questioning the ideas of dance and humanity, according the Company’s website.
Ezralow’s performance résumé reads like a who’s who of contemporary dance. He has danced with 5×2 Plus, MOMIX, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and Paul Taylor Dance Company. Throughout his career Ezralow has created 15 original dance theatre plays, including Pearl, Flying Bodies, Soaring Souls and a reinterpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
His work has also been seen in Julie Taymor’s film Across the Universe, Cirque du Soleil’s Love and in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
His most recent show Open, had its U.S. premiere at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Los Angeles in 2016 and is also the program the Company will be presenting in Dallas, March 29-30, at the Moody Performance Hall. Described as surprising, comical and fun, Open is a series of dynamic vignettes that are woven together using classical music, inventive concepts, playful movement and striking visuals
TheaterJones asks Ezralow about creating movement for film and theater, collaborating with his dancers and what audiences can expect to see this weekend.
TheaterJones: How would you describe Open, the work you will be presenting in Dallas this weekend?
Daniel Ezralow: You’re obviously going to see movement. You’re going to see fun concepts paired with classical music. And you’re going to see a fun show that is available to everybody. So I try to in a sense demystify the work and not put it up on a pedestal. I think it has to really play for everyone. Those who love dance and those who have never seen dance before as well.
So many contemporary choreographers today choose to go deep and heavy with their work. What made you want to create something light and humorous?
Generally speaking, choreographers today take themselves too seriously. Everyone is important in this world, including the janitor, the trash collector and the street sweeper. Everyone is important and they’re as important to appreciate your work as a well-developed artist who has been around the world or someone whose graduate summa cum laude from a university. I think it’s really important that we pay attention to everybody because as artists our responsible is to somehow have a positive effect on the world.
So, sometimes I get a little fed up, as you do, with the doom and gloom and the seriousness and the politicization of contemporary work. And I say you know what? I would just like everyone to really get their money’s worth. In other words, they have to come to the show and reach into their pocket to buy a ticket and spend 75 minutes of their life watching what I do on stage. I would like them to walk out feeling inspired. Feeling happy. Feeling a sense of joy. And I say this a lot and it’s a silly thing, but just that they want to live another day of their life because what’s important is that we inspire. And this work was very much meant to be that. I was meant to be accessible and that pretty much anybody could come a watch it and they wouldn’t have to say ‘oh, what does that mean?’ I just want them to accept it and get it.
There’s a fine line between comical and cheesy. In Open how did you keep from going over the top with the humor?
I think of it as more ironic than anything else. In my life I feel like I am very respectful of everybody, but I am respectful in a way to the rules in order to break them. So there is a big part of me that wants to look at something and if the rules are not working then I want to show people that it can be broken. I want to show that there is irony behind the rule. So a lot of the humor that I play with it really comes from my childhood. In my childhood I felt capable of joking around. There’s times that I do see my work and I think ‘Oh my God’ that’s just too silly. And then other times I see the dancers uplift the choreography to the point where I say “Wow they pulled it off!”
You see, I get overjoyed when I see someone walking down the street and they start jumping up and down on the sidewalk. Usually children and puppies do that, but adults never do that. So to see someone so overjoyed that they jump up and down is a very unique ironic break our society. And I think that is an important thing to see all the time. In a way I am very serious with the humor I use. But I believe also there is a very powerful thing that you can say once you make someone laugh.
Do you typically collaborate with the dancers during the creative process?
I am always collaborative. I come in with a strong idea, but I don’t actually believe that I can make anyone believe anything or do anything. So, both with the dancers and the audience I let the audience have the final word. I don’t want to tell them they’re supposed to believe what I am saying. If they believe it I am really happy and if they don’t then I need to work on my work.
It’s the same with my dancers. You see, I never believed that the dancer was just a color that the artist paints with. I think the color has an energy to it. I think dancers have their own unique energy. Ultimately, I think from a long time ago when I founded MOMIX with Moses Pendleton the whole belief system was that the dance is greater than the dancer and the dancer is greater than the choreography. Meaning to say that inside of our bodies we have dance. We are born with it. We keep moving our bodies because moving your body is what keeps you young and what keeps the flow of life going through you.
So, I believe that the dance is inside of you. The choreography is designed for which to hold the dancer or which to hold the dance. The dance is like a Greek spirit. It’s beyond all of us. And then the dancer takes that energy into their body and then the choreographer takes the energy of the body of the dancer and decides to organize it in a certain way.
So, I don’t really feel that at any point choreography should be stronger than the person performing it. In that sense I try to involve the dancers from a very early stage.
What type of dancers do you like to work with?
For a long time when I did commissions on companies and I tended to gravitate toward the black sheep. I wanted the dancer that the director told me was trouble and to not work with them, but that was the person I wanted to work with. Because they always had some unique issues right under the surface and that gave me fantastic material to work with.
And with my own company there is a lot of turnover, but only because my company is a project-based company. So, when we have a show we get together, but they all work commercially as well. I tend to like dancers who can do a music video or T.V. show and then they come and do concert work. I feel those dancers are very well-rounded. But the dancers I am working with, I call them all the time and some of them have been working with me for more than 10 years.
How hard is it for you to switch gears from concert work to commercial work?
Even when we were doing MOMIX, David Bowie would call or U2 would call us because they liked the work we were doing. So I wouldn’t call it commercial. You could come at that work from a commercial point of view or you could come at it from an artistic point of view. And I always come at it from artistic even when I did films like The Grinch with Ron Howard. That still is an artistic project for me. All the commercial things I do like Television even in Italy. Though seemingly it looks like just a TV show, I always try to change the dynamic and change the parameter to feel more artistic and that’s what I love about it.
So I kind of hop skip and jump between film, TV, Broadway, commercial work and artistic work, and because I am flexible in my mind I don’t see that it’s a problem. I’m sure for some people it would be a big problem. But my mind is flexible and these are very different worlds. The timing on an artistic project is not at all the timing on a Television project. In Television you have to move fast. You have to change fast. And you have to be willing to give up your idea and compromise all the time. Whereas with an artistic project you’re really backing your idea. So, I just shift with the projects and I don’t see that it’s difficult.
This Q&A was posted on TheaterJones.com.