Choreographer Daniel Ezralow defined himself in a long-ago interview as an "art-lete," a combination artist-athlete. Nearly 30 years on, that's still an apt way to consider his populist approach to dance-making -- and a helpful crib note while watching his Los Angeles-based company, Ezralow Dance, perform "Open" on Saturday at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
An Ezralow dance is short — about five minutes, a one-idea skit to a piece of recorded music. String about 15 of these dances together, loosely tie it to an over-arching title, and you have an evening. This is art for all -- some sophisticated references, but with sight gags and flashy gymnastic physicality.
Technical wizardry and theatrical eye candy have long appealed to Ezralow too. "Open" has impressive video projections of funky line drawings, skyscrapers that pop with a 3-D look, and most fun of all, a scene in which the dancers magically transform into one another. (The videos are credited to Luca Parmigiana, Ezralow and his wife, Arabella Ezralow, and Marc Rosenthal.)
With a title like "Open" (premiered in 2012), anything is possible, and that's pretty much what Ezralow delivers. I did detect the vaguest of through-lines: The dancers begin encumbered by work clothes, briefcases and responsibilities, and they slowly rid themselves of all that in favor of brightly colored playfulness and then, for the final tableaux, nude-colored skivvies and back-to-nature humanity. There's many a nonsensical detour along that route. The choreographer is good-naturedly encouraging the audience to be open to life -- a bromide, yes, but one with wisdom attached.
Scenes cascade one after another with brisk efficiency, which is good because more than half of these dances are predictable, with repetitive movement that becomes tiresome. On the plus side: "Kelp Dreams" (danced to a Chopin Nocturne), in which Patrick Cook, as a sleepy worker, discovers mermaid Kelsey Landers tucked inside a black suit. "Hendersons" (danced to a Bach Prelude) gave us Wall Street types depicted as a kind of marching drill team.
Ezralow's wit and theatricality came together in "Chroma," when the dancers dashed back and forth behind two panels, their real and projected selves trading places. And then there was "Stepping Stones," a rollicking gumboot-dance-meets-Paul Taylor. The remarkable Re'Sean Pates kicked off that section by leaping from stand-still into a perfect back flip.
The minuses: Many jokes feel tired, trading in stereotypes. The wedding scene-turned-boxing ring gags of "AFGO" was one example. The punching Romeo and Juliet gangs in "Black and White" brought to mind those rock 'em, sock 'em robot toys and all their limitations. The "Carmen" scene — in which I believe she was wearing finger puppets — was impossible to decipher for those of us at the back of the house; even the close-up "mirror" didn't help as the lighting was too dark and misdirected.
Ezralow's dancers are art-letes, but that's a limiting label. Kudos to all eight performers: Kelly Allen, Santo Giuliano, Isaac Herta, Vanessa Trevino and Anthea Young, in addition to Cook, Landers and Pates. If Ezralow plumbs more fully into the depths of the dancers' talents, he might find more to say.
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