During the 1970s and '80s, Pilobolus and its offshoot Momix--the zanies of modern movement--turned dance on its ear with no-holds-barred moves and trompe l'oeil theatrical effects.
Now, fugitives from both groups are riding roughshod on new terrain. Daniel Ezralow, Jamey Hampton, Ashley Roland and Morleigh Steinberg formed ISO ("I'm So Optimistic") and added another wrinkle to the formula.
The four dance mavericks teamed up with a new-wave a cappella group--the Bobs--that takes doo-wop to the brink and became "ISO and the Bobs." This post-modern fusion will dispense free-form acro-dance (dance rooted in acrobatics) and musical mayhem tonight at Mandeville Auditorium.
The concert will kick off a diverse season of dance, which includes an April visit from the acclaimed Lewitzky Dance Company, sponsored by UC San Diego's University Events Program.
In a telephone interview from Denver, Ezralow talked about the move from Momix, and the group's special bond with the singing Bobs.
"All four of us were Momix," Ezralow said. "We're different as ISO, but I have to think the people aren't different. We still have the same hormones and chromosonic structure. The faces didn't change. We just tried to change our style.
"At Momix, we created a show with Moses (Pendleton)," Ezralow said. "When it got stagnant, we realized we had grown as individuals. We needed responsibility for ourselves, and Moses had grown to want to do mostly his work."
ISO has not abandoned the cockeyed sense of humor or the double-jointed maneuvers and pretzel-shaped configurations that characterize Momix. But the new group veers away from prop manipulation, body-disguising costumes, and blatant sight gags.
"Serious fun is the best way to describe our dancing," Ezralow said. "Momix kind of goes for the gag. We do less of that. When we find ourselves using gimmicks, we move away from it."
While the quartet was still part of Momix, they discovered the Bobs and realized they were kindred spirits. That association led to "The Serious Fun Festival," a collaborative show created in 1987.
"ISO is four people, and the Bobs are also four people," he said. "It's eight people collaborating. Sometimes the Bobs sing. Sometimes we dance. Sometimes we work together. They've dissected dances of ours, and we've worked with their sounds. (The program) is tailor made, and very much a collaborative effort. In essence, our bodies sing, and their voices dance.
"It's something like a cabaret show," he continued, groping for the right words to explain ISO and the Bobs. "It's not meant to be serious modern dance, but it's good dancing. And their songs are very clever, very humorous."
What makes ISO and the Bobs different from other music and dance combos?
"At a dance show, you can't really start screaming," Ezralow said. "This one takes dance beyond the fourth wall. It brings dance into the fourth row, and people get involved. That's the element the Bobs bring. We're still set up for a proscenium stage, but we'd like to start getting away from it."
The cabaret connotation has had a negative impact, however, particularly on the critics. Ezralow recognizes that.
"The problem is they don't know what the show is," he said. "They think that's not what dance is about. Normally, the crowd jumps to its feet. The music and dance are very accessible, but that's not necessarily bad. You can be very commercial and very good."
The ISO and the Bobs show has remained pretty much intact since its inception, but San Diego may get a little surprise when the production makes its local debut.
"I won't guarantee it," Ezralow said, "but we're adding a new solo, and we hope to show it in San Diego. Although it's a set show, we keep changing it around. It's fluid, and it can be flexible. There are about 15 pieces."
The ISO and the Bobs show is only part of the ISO persona. In fact, the group will perform in Italy without their musical partners after the San Diego concert.
"ISO is a collaborative," Ezralow said. "We have our own shows, and sometimes we work with the Bobs. As a group, we're now leaning more toward working separately. We don't all participate in everything.
"When everybody is a boss, no one's a boss. We're just four creative minds doing complementary choreography," he said. "We found we don't all have to cook the same stew. We're all growing as individuals and creative entities. Any artist shares a voice with the world, until that voice becomes stagnant or repressed. In ISO, we won't have to disband. There's room for us to grow."