Daniel Ezralow is sitting in the darkened Freud Playhouse at UCLA, watching a technical run-through of his one-man multimedia show, Mandala. “I dance with that guy,” he says as I find my way to a seat. He's pointing to a film of a man trudging along a stretch of beach with his pant legs rolled up. The scene plays out across three contiguous rectangular movie screens on the stage. As the film-guy progresses down the shoreline, he crosses from the first screen to the second and then the last.
“Is that you?” I ask.
“It's me,” he says by way of greeting.
“No, I know you are you. But that guy on film, he's you, too, right?”
The answer is yes, but confusion over multiple Ezralows comes easy: The Los Angeles-born dancer has been visible in more media than any other dancer or choreographer his age (40). It's Ezralow who is sort of famous for an advertisement for an expensive brand of wristwatches, in which he is photographed from the side in a running pose, while balancing a baby in the palm of one hand. His wild, athletic, flexible body has also been used in Gap ads. He's trod the fashion runways for Issey Miyake. As a dancer, he's been a regular on the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts schedule (with Paul Taylor, Pilobolus, Momix and ISO) over the years. And he is the choreographer for this year's Academy Awards broadcast, which airs live on March 23, just one day after Mandala's four-night run at UCLA closes.
“I dance with me,” Ezralow says, referring back to the three films in front of us. “Mandala is a living movie, but don't ask what a living movie is. We're still finding out.” Three years ago, Ezralow strapped three lightweight video cameras together and began filming whatever captured his attention, wherever he traveled. He freelanced as a choreographer at the Helsinki City Theater Dance Company, the Arena di Verona in Italy, Las Vegas and sometimes at home in L.A. Wherever he pointed the cameras – out the front window of a speeding train; in a library in Fermo, Italy, over the pages of a letter written by Christopher Columbus – the three separate images he picked up were aligned, as the human eye aligns them, to form a panorama. It was as if the viewer were inside Ezralow's head, he says, a realization that motivated him to build a small model theater out of three video screens, placed side by side as a backdrop, and to manufacture a stick figure that could interact with the video images. If you could get into his head, you could experience dancing – or water-skiing or running – through him. Excited by the model's potential, Ezralow decided to put it onstage.
“I am trying, without being pretentious, to hit people on a subconscious level, to make a dance that just hits you like love,” he says. “Sit and just watch it and see if your palms are sweating, feet are aching and your groin starts to . . .”
Loosely based on Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, Mandala is also autobiographical inasmuch as it follows the story of Ezralow's spiritual awakening to Buddhism. For the past three years, he has been performing the piece in Europe and South America to a score that combined music from many different sources. The UCLA performances, however, mark the world premiere of an original work created specifically for Mandala by composer and frequent collaborator Michel Colomber, synthesizing piano, cello, gamelan and water sounds.
Ezralow won't disclose his plans for the Academy Awards show, except to say that he'll dance in his own routine to a medley of nominated songs and that the choreography will be “simple, light and not 'oh-that-dance-section-who-needs-that?'” Beyond that, he is merely choreographing two shows headed for Broadway, including director Hal Prince's Parade, creating a routine with colleagues Moses Pendleton and David Parsons for the Romanian gymnastics team, and getting married.How many Ezralows are there? “All come from within,” he says.