Greetings from Sochi—The Inside Scoop on the Opening Ceremony

posted by Jennifer Stahl on Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014
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Daniel Ezralow in Sochi.

On Friday night, over 31 million people from around the world tuned in to watch the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics. It came with its share of #SochiProblems: Many complained that the half hour–long dance portion presented a sugarcoated version of Russian history. Dance Magazine caught up with the choreographer behind the 20th-century section: Daniel Ezralow, a Broadway and MOMIX veteran with Russian roots. He shared why he felt it was the right thing to present.

How did you choose which aspects of Russian history to show?

The 20th-century section I choreographed was about 15 minutes of the entire 30-minute dance section. I wanted to represent the power of the avant-garde movement and the period when communism swept through the country and then the transitional moment was meant to show the building of a new life. Of course, there are a lot of things I could have choreographed about, a lot of controversial issues, but those were not the important things to say. My goal was not to portray Russia in its glory, but to present a slice of Soviet life. That's what is it was about. I wanted to be lighthearted and ironic in the reconstruction where I'd been powerful in the avant-garde section. I wanted to create a feeling Russians could connect with. The music was songs that everyone in stadium knew, and they even started singing along. The characters were also iconic Soviet characters: cosmonauts, pilots, pioneers. One of the things I do in my work is I fit in. I hop from film to theater to straight dance, and I learn the way to blend into a situation and take on a sense of the project or the culture.

What was the biggest challenge?
There were a lot of different ideas between all the producers, and a lot of changes along the way. The initial project was altered so many times—and up to the last minute. It was a great challenge for all of us to be able to lock down ideas so that we could start creating. But it kept things very fresh! 

How do you feel about the experience?
Even though I'm an American choreographer, creativity and art transcend countries; dance transcends boundaries. I feel like a lot of stuff goes out politically that isn't necessary. Our news media wants to get scoops. They exaggerate and bend the truth a bit based on what can sell a story. It was wonderful to realize Russia is really a special place, just like America, just like China. It would have been one thing if I were choreographing for the Bolshoi, but here was an Olympic event where we were all supposed to be connected. I felt very strongly about that. This was my opportunity to unite the world with an entertaining experience, not to be divisive, but to tell millions of people that we share this planet, we perform for everybody.