You gotta have a gimmick, right? Clearly Daniel Ezralow, Artistic Director of the LA-based Ezralow Dance, thinks that when it comes to Gypsy Rose Lee's maxim, the more the merrier. In Open, which--ha, ha--"opened" the 2018 Chutzpah! Festival last night at the Rothstein Theatre, gimmick after gimmick is trotted out in attempt to mask the empty ideas and utter lack of choreographic distinction at the heart of what is essentially a succession of brief dance-theatre vignettes. Roped-off boxing ring? Check. Potted palm trees? Check. Finger puppets? Check. Black and white face paint? Check. Mismatched costumes? Check. And let's not forget the supra-gimmick of the constantly moving screens, the locomotion of which was perhaps the most technically accomplished physical activity of the entire evening.
To be fair, the eight dancers are trying very hard. But it is clear that most are not classically trained and that they come from more commercial dance and musical theatre and even circus arts backgrounds. And then there's the fact that the choreography is itself better suited to a cruise ship than a concert stage. Ezralow clearly subscribes to the So You Think You Can Dance school of physical expressiveness: Faster! Bigger! More! And don't forget the costume changes. The partnering is especially clumsy and genitally awkward, with the lifts of the women more in line with the look-at-what-we-can-do posing of ice skating than the structural plot pointing of ballet. This was especially notable in an early man-at-beach-meets mermaid sequence and then later in what I can only describe as a gold laméd tribute to physique posing. (During the latter the women behind us burst into uncontrollable laughter.)
It would be one thing if this were all being done with a wink and a nudge, if Ezralow was taking the piss out of his audience. After all, he does pair most of the vignettes with iconic musical compositions by Chopin, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Bach, among others. However, I could detect absolutely no irony at work in the juxtaposition of musical and dance scores. Indeed the Prokofiev-themed homage to Romeo and Juliet was utterly sincere, which just made it that much more painful to watch--especially as the Robbinsesque choreography was so derivative. Likewise, a gum-booted line dance to Bach was clearly undertaken with the utmost seriousness, and was not meant as a burlesquing of either artistic variation.
The programming of Open is a real head-scratcher. Normally the dance presentations at Chutzpah! are reliably rewarding, with Mary-Louise Albert bringing in top international companies and also showcasing amazing local talent. This work is definitely the worst piece I have seen at the festival, and ranks among the poorest dance performances I have ever attended. How it continues to tour in the way it does is beyond me.