Ezralow Dance doles out laughs, punch lines, and projection magic in Chutzpah Festival opener

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      An Ezralow Dance production, presented by the Chutzpah Festival. At the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre on Thursday, February 15. Continues until February 17

      The Chutzpah Festival has surprised audiences again and again by presenting some of the riskiest, most avant-garde dance the city sees all year. In the past we’ve watched everything from Sidra Bell’s dark-maned replicants twitching and posing to noise rock in 2013’s Nudity to Gallim Dance’s eerily grinning circus-ring characters in 2016’s Wonderland.

      But this year opened on a completely different note, with the crowd-pleasing Ezralow Dance, an L.A. troupe that fills its work with Chaplinesque physical comedy, sight gags, gymnastic stunts, and tricks of the eye. The show called Open served up dance that aimed to entertain—and by every indication it achieved that goal, receiving a standing O during its giddily extended encore set to “Uptown Funk”.

      Daniel Ezralow, who has choreographed everything from the Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony to Cirque du Soleil shows, has a gift for building instant worlds with multimedia projections and a few movable square screens that shift the space between his fast-flowing short sketches.

      In one retro number, businessmen with briefcases cavort amid three-dimensional skyscrapers; in another, a strange figure in white, strung with matching white helium balloons, crawls through a sea of moving stars (until a trio of black-dressed witches arrive with their scissors).

      The biggest hit of the evening, and the most successful marriage of choreography and technology, is the elaborate game that is “Chroma”. In it, the dancers, each wearing one of the rainbow’s bright hues, move between two projection screens. The perfectly synchronized, digitally tweaked videos make it look like they are morphing into one another every time they move behind the screens and emerge again. It’s showy, gimmicky as heck, but fun.

      Ezralow is also exceptionally good at punch lines. Most of his skits include a killer, from the splash that ends a mermaid sequence to the last laugh in a marriage ceremony that has just transformed into a boxing ring.

      Less successful offerings on the program include an extended ode to the muscular poses of gold-sheathed Greek gods, a scene of trees writhing to life, and a pseudo war dance between performers in white and black body paint.

      But honestly, the pace is so brisk here that the moment you realize you don’t like one sequence, another energized, totally different little one erupts. And there’s also the familiarity of the soundtrack to fall back on: most pieces are set to a greatest-hits list of classical music, with well-known works by the likes of Chopin, Bach, and Tchaikovsky.

      This is not dance at its most technical or cutting-edge, but instead at its most fun and unpretentious—one Stomp-like number is even performed in construction coveralls and rubber boots.

      The big draw here is the sense of play that Ezralow and his dancers have about their work. They are having a great time, and it’s obvious the audience is too.