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Performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Daniel Ezralow presented a retrospective of some of his most famous works under the title Primo Passo. In Italian, primo passo translates as first step and although the evening was rough around the edges with regards to production, Daniel Ezralow Dance gave the audience what they came for: entertainment.

Ezralow Dance – Photo by Lois Greenfield

After performing with 5X2 Plus, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Pilobolus and others, Ezralow expanded his career to include choreography, directing and television. His movement vocabulary reflects this wide range of styles and it appears that Ezralow is still seeking to find a personal choreographic voice.

The evening opened with PROLOGUE. The sound of a coffee bean grinder blares out in the darkness before the lights reveal Ezralow stirring and sipping a cup of espresso. A large television then plays clips of TV programs and news blurbs as the silhouette of a child plays in front of the screen. After the voice of Walter Cronkite says, “And that’s the way it is!” the lights fade out. This, I assume, introduces the passage of time and Ezralow looking back.

Ezralow Dance, “Brothers” Re’Sean Pates, Gerald Espinosa – Photo: Dan Steinberg for the Wallis

BROTHERS, choreographed in 1982 by Ezralow and David Parsons, is a look at the relationship between two men. At first the two remain physically attached; their movement mirroring and, like book ends, facing in opposite directions. They express “brotherly” affection for one another, take part is playful banter and wrestling, athletic tumbling; all culminating in a final embrace before going their separate ways. These two men could be siblings or just very close friends whose relationship is just as close. Both Ezralow and Parsons performed with Paul Taylor and the movement reflected that fact. Certain still moments, standing in a two dimensional, Egyptian painting pose is classic Taylor. Gerald Espinosa and Re’Sean Pates each gave wonderful performances, dancing to Igor Stravinsky’s Concertino for Twelve Instruments. The duet ends abruptly; causing it to feel unresolved. BROTHERS does, however, seem to go on longer than it should.

Ezralow Dance in “Foreign Tails” – Kelsey Landers, Junji Dezaki – Photo by Dan Steinberg for the Wallis

FOREIGN TAILS is a work that looks to be more fun to dance than to watch. Like the dancing waters in Las Vegas, several light bulbs inside white lampshades are timed to blink with the Claude Debussy’s music. As they are lifted upward, two remain. These two larger lampshades begin to move, propelled by what turns out to be two men dressed in 18th century tradesman clothing. As they glide across the stage the lampshades morph into two women sitting atop unseen dollies. The “shades” become hoop skirts and underneath they are wearing white bloomers with red socks. The men become enchanted by the two animated figures and the fun is on. The come alive lampshades are spun, sent gliding across the stage and the skirts become active props. Choreographed by Ezralow, Jamey Hampton, Ashley Roland and Morleigh Steinberg – ISO Dance; FOREIGN TAILS grows long in the tooth as the jokes wear thin. The dancers who make the dance appear such fun are Junji Dezaki, Isaac Huerta, Kelsey Landers and Anthea Young. The inventive costumes of FOREIGN TAILS are by ISO Dance.

Ezralow Dance, “Super Straight” – Photo: Dan Steinberg for the Wallis

SUPER STRAIGHT is coming down was first commissioned by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 1989. Performed to music by Thom Willems, the work opens with the cast lined up across the back, dressed in office attire and standing in clear plastic garment bags. It has a science fiction feel as the characters become animated one by one and enter the space. That feeling leaves instantly, however, and takes on a stereotypical white-collar atmosphere. The work is beautifully danced by Will Clayton, Raymond Eljifor, Gerald Espinosa, Charissa Kroeger, Kelsey Landers, Vanessa Nichole, and Re’Sean Pates, but the work somehow never connects to the audience. The performances are stunning and it is the dancers who are responsible for the favorable response from the audience. The original Lighting Designer for this work is Howell Binkley.

The second half of Primo Passo opens with SF, also commissioned by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2004. It is a tour de force for the performers and they executed it very well. The dance is highly athletic, very difficult technically and as it rapidly moves along; moving faster and faster until it stops on a dime. This is one of Ezralow’s best movement works. It is straight out dancing, performed in stunning costumes by Jackson Lowell, that are made of a glossy material that catches light and tosses it back into the house. There is a gorgeous duet performed with great skill by Raymond Eljifor and Kelsey Landers. The other members of this dynamic cast are Kelly Allen, Gerald Espinosa, Will Clayton, Najla Gilliam, Isaac Huerta, Vanessa Nichole and Anthea Young. The original lighting design for SF was by Ryan O’Gara.

AWAKENING SOLO with music composed and performed by Joachim Cooder, felt like filler programed in to give the other dancers time to change costumes and rest up for the next energetic dance, PULSE. Performer Anthea Young never quite brought life to this role. Her movements are soft and slow, and she never moves out of center stage until she simply turns and walks off. In this one dance, Young failed to connect as a performer. Cooder’s music, was pleasant but as whole, AWAKENING SOLO left me wanting.

Ezralow Dance in “Pulse” – Photo by Dan Steinberg for the Wallis

PULSE was commissioned by River North Chicago Dance Company in 2006. Again, Ezralow takes a wonderful idea and runs it into the ground. Dancers run and slide across the space with the aid of sox-like footwear, but the action soon becomes predictable. The dancers tried hard to make this piece work, but they were either under rehearsed or they did not have enough time to rehearse onstage. There were collisions and misjudgments regarding exits throughout, and timings missed. The movement is interesting, and it was fun to watch the dancers glide through the special lighting by Ryan O’Gara, but it lacked the dynamics of Ezralow’s SF.

Ezralow Dance in “Chroma” – Photo by Dan Steinberg for the Wallis

CHROMA was performed previously at the Wallis, and better. It is a wonderful dance that includes dancers running across the stage in their underwear, but with each crossing they don a new bright colored piece of apparel. Finally ending up in a line, they discover that their wardrobe is all mixed up; each wearing a piece of the other’s costume. When they sort it all out they form a Crayola rainbow. The setting then shifts and a wonderful series of crossings behind two screens with projected images of the dancers, help morph the dancers a la Michael Jackson’s video titled Black and White. It is a section that require pristine timing, and although it was still fun to watch, a few of the timings were way off. The colorful costumes are by American Apparel and the music is the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss II. The cast members are Kelly Allen, Will Clayton, Junji Dezaki, Gerald Espinosa, Najla Gilliam, Isaac Huerta, Kelsey Landers, Vanessa Nichole, Re’Sean Pates and Anthea Young.

As written above, this company of beautiful dancers, some of L.A.’s finest, looked under-rehearsed or suffering from limited time in the theater for this performance. Collisions onstage and misjudged exits were coupled with obvious lighting and sound miscues. This is a strong and talented group, but on this occasion they were not presented at their best.

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Jeff Slayton
Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, "The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber" and "Dancing Toward Sanity". For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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