Ezralow’s OPEN deftly balances dance as art and entertainment

With audiences becoming increasingly familiar with entertaining dance shows on television and less exposed to the esoteric art world of much concert dance, what is a choreographer to do? Daniel Ezralow addresses the delicate balance of making great dance that appeals to a broader audience in his evening length work OPEN, which was performed at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts this past weekend. Ezralow Dance Company brought a cast of eight highly trained dancers to perform the 15 part work conceived by Daniel and Arabella Ezralow that weaves a variety of dance styles and projected images into a visual and kinesthetic tapestry that had the audience at their feet.

The work, originally created and performed in 2012, was designed with a dance advocacy angle in mind. The goal (in short) was to create a great evening of dance that was accessible for a general audience while retaining artistic craftsmanship and elegant aesthetics. The show is an invitation to the audience to open themselves to the dance experience: opening minds, hearts and spirits to this primal art form of the human body.

The arc of the show facilitated this vision as it becconed the audience with projected words and phrases about what it means to be open. These words and images were displayed on large rolling panels that floated through the space. The dancers appeared one by one, magically accumulating in the space, dressed in monochrome pedestrian clothes, performing quirky bobs, head nods and brisk arms gestures. The diversity of the dancers in skin color, hairstyles and fashion choices contributed to the uniquely human identity of the dancers. The dance of the everyman was an inroad for the audience to identify with these (otherwise virtuosic) beings. The characters were individualized, personalized and welcoming.

As the show continued, the pedestrian nature gradually dissolved into a dreamy world of fantasy and abstraction, through the everyday experiences of a janitor, businessman, a married couple, and then to the whimsical world of ocean mermaids, boxing matches, and human forests. The performance’s vignette structure allowed the work as a whole to be as flexible (and non-sequitur) as it wanted. The audience came to accept and expect the unexpected turn of events as one world visually melted into another; dancers entered and exited in a variety of costumes and characters one after the next to the point where it seemed wholly appropriate to have a female soloist in an evening gown dance with finger puppets! Ezralow managed to create a world where anything could and did happen. Each world was a new invitation for the audience to go on a wild ride of human nature expressing itself and aesthetic discovery.

The challenge to the vignette format was felt midway through the performance, in which the pace of constant change became somewhat taxing for the audience as every few minutes the audience was being asked to reinvest themselves emotionally in a new set of aesthetics, characters and movement vocabulary. The middle sequence of more abstract dances including Grounded, Breathing, Syrinx, Black and White and Olympiads proved to be a bridge one step too far for the audience. The movement became less character based and more space and shape oriented. Without question-the dancers continued to perform brilliantly, but the relative lack of narrative had audience members occasionally shifting in their seats.

Nevertheless, the pace and audience investment picked right back up for the last piece Chroma which returned to the playful, character based feel that initially hooked the audience. Chroma integrated video projections in a spectacle of color and illusion as the dancers impishly moved behind the masking panels only to reappear in surprising combinations of partners and colors. The movement game charmed the audience back to complete emotional investment in the company, the dancers and the show as a whole, leading smoothly into the final bow set to a groovy reggae tune. One could tell at this point- these dancers love dance and love the joy of dance. The dancers seemed to fully relax into themselves at this point, allowing their own love of the movement arts to shine through. And, just when the audience was ready to head home smiling, we got the additional treat of a dynamic “show off” curtain call set to the radio hit Uptown Funk. Any hearts left un-won, were immediately sold on the show as the dancers leapt, flipped, turned and kicked in a final moment of all out dancing bliss.

Overall, OPEN is a show I would recommend to otherwise reluctant theater goers who might pass on a dance show. OPEN nimbly balances the entertaining component of dance with strong media images, relate-able characters and choreographic craftsmanship that incorporates diverse dance qualities into a single performance. The dancers are brilliantly trained while still maintaining unique personalities and movement thumbprints that allows the audience to see them as individuals. The performers are tasked to toggle between balletic, abstract, jazzy, and even gumboot steppin’ virtuosos at the flip of a switch. Their athleticism, sensitivity and theatricality should not go overlooked as they were able to play impressive myriad roles within the hour-long show.

Above all, OPEN is a joyful dance experience that is fun. Having originally come from LA, Daniel Ezralow, is someone we can and should claim as a representative of the diversity and virtuosity that is typical of our region. Ezralow is a great example of how, if nothing else, Californians know how to put on a great show!



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Categories: The Wallis

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