Ezralow to share first steps at his old stomping grounds

July 5, 2017
Daniel Ezralow and son. Photo by Lois Greenfield

When does the act of looking back qualify as a step forward?

When Daniel Ezralow is the man orchestrating the steps and the reflection.

In bringing his Ezralow Dance to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills for a second consecutive season, the Los Angeles-based director-choreographer is presenting a selection of performances under the title “Primo Passo.” The name is Italian for “First Steps,” and the concept of origins is what fired up Ezralow and his wife, Arabella, Ezralow Dance’s co-artistic director.

“We started to think about what is it to be a ‘first step’? What are your first steps as a child, as a young man, as a teenager, as an adult? What are your first steps in love?” Ezralow said. “We got very excited about it. But everything I do morphs all the time. I create very much through spontaneity and through kind of a wellsource that you didn’t know was there. So initially when you have ideas, you’re very excited. Then I came to terms with, ‘OK, what is this show going to be?’ ”

Over the course of an eclectic career spanning four decades, Ezralow has been a founding member of MOMIX and ISO Dance; has worked with Paul Taylor, Lar Lubovitch and Pilobolus; and has created commissioned pieces for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Batsheva Dance Company. He choreographed the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as well as dances for David Bowie, U2, Cirque du Soleil and director Julie Taymor’s Broadway shows.

“He’s truly an international artist, which makes it doubly exciting that he is returning to his hometown of Beverly Hills to debut his latest retrospective work,” Wallis Artistic Director Paul Crewes said.

Ezralow, who studied biology at UC Berkeley with the aim of becoming a cardiologist, took a detour into modern dance and has been a creative moving target for his entire professional career. Given that his work spans popular and artistic mediums, he said with a chuckle that he has been criticized both for being “too dancy and not dancy enough,” depending on what field he is working in at the time.

So in reflecting on his own “primo passo,” Ezralow selected a sampling of several of his works from 1982 through 2013. “There’s a certain amount of my work that holds the test of time, that is still applicable,” he said. “Those are the ones I have chosen to put together for ‘Primo Passo,’ which, in a sense, is a first step for me in putting together a real dance company.”

The July 13-14 performances will include “Brothers,” a 1982 duet he created with David Parsons when both men were with Paul Taylor’s company; “SF,” a joyous meditation on the concept of “why,” commissioned by Hubbard Street; and “Chroma,” a playful piece involving dancers dashing behind panels, which was part of a program Ezralow brought to the Wallis in 2016.

Ezralow also is toying with incorporating the “first steps” of his now 3-year-old son into the program.

“I can’t guarantee it at the moment,” he said, “but I’m hoping you will see an element of those young bodies on the stage.”

The discussion of his son took Ezralow back to a memory from his own childhood when, as a 3-year-old at his home in Coldwater Canyon, he would stand in front of the TV and kick up his legs to grab the attention of his father and older siblings.

“Every step of your career, you can look back and say, ‘Well, it was meant to be,’ but it’s not really like that,” Ezralow said. “Every decision you make, the choices you made are always determining your future. And for me, I got a little encouragement from standing in front of a TV when I was 3. It was never in a dance class. I played sports, and the next iteration was my wanting to dance with my girlfriend, so I started watching ‘Soul Train.’ ”

“There are all these places that influence you,” he added. “I would like to weave that into the show in moments.”

Ezralow’s father’s family came from Russia, and his father grew up among the Jews of Boyle Heights. His Polish-born mother immigrated to Palestine at a young age and was part of the Jewish paramilitary organization, the Haganah, the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces. His parents met in Los Angeles, where his upbringing partially informed his faith.

“I grew up with Jewishness that is traditional because my mother’s family is still in Israel,” Ezralow said. “Judaism, of course, has fantastic human tenets, but I didn’t see that the devout practice of it would necessarily take me to where I needed to go. My discovering creativity, in particular, became my religion and became the way I could express my deepest
care for the human race. How I want to help people, how I want to serve people comes through my creativity. I didn’t see that in any religion particularly.”

Growing up in Coldwater Canyon, Ezralow and his family had a Beverly Hills ZIP code and dropped off mail at the old post office at the intersection of Cañon Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard. That post office is now the site of the Wallis.

“I have worked a lot around the world in many different places,” Ezralow said. “So to come back to where I lived, and play at a theater that emerged from an old post office, it just makes me chuckle. It’s fantastic and it’s a beautiful theater.”

Ezralow Dance presents “Primo Passo” July 13-14 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 746-4000 or visit thewallis.org.

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