How Dancer-Turned-Filmmaker Ezra Hurwitz Makes Dance Go Viral
Ezra Hurwitz's dance trailers are tailor-made for going viral. His fast-moving shorts highlight not only the glamour of dance but also the grit, with a stylish Millennial sensibility.
The former Miami City Ballet corps member has been tapped by everyone from San Francisco Ballet to The Kennedy Center to Broadway's Chicago. He's also done commercials for non-dance companies like WeWork and Opening Ceremony, and collaborated on a music video for The National with Justin Peck. But no matter who's in front of the camera, his dancer's eye is always behind it.
He recently spoke to Dance Magazine about his unique creative process.
He Starts Each Project By Asking, Why Is This On Film?
"When I'm filming dance, the question for me is always, How can video add a new dimension to this dance as opposed to just holding a lens up to it?"
Storytelling is Key For Grabbing Viewers
"In concert dance, we're used to the luxury of viewers already being in seats and engaged. But when you're putting video on the internet, the attention span is very different. You have to find ways to keep engaging the viewer."
"Even if it's 30 seconds long, I'm always trying to figure out what the narrative hook is. Everyone likes to invest in a story, even subconsciously.
"With my upbringing at the School of American Ballet, and my fluency with Balanchine and Robbins, I naturally take a sort of neoclassical approach to storytelling. It doesn't need to be a classic narrative to have a story."
"Because I'm so used to dance, as a filmmaker I can easily engage in physically driven narrative. I don't need dialogue."
He Does His Own Kind Of Choreography Behind The Camera
"I work with a choreographer on things like how a phrase should be framed, what vantage point would be most unpredictable, whether we want to accentuate the movement by moving the camera or is that actually going to take away from the excitement of the movement."
He Can Stretch A Budget Like A Dancer
"I put 99 percent of my budget into one or two days of production. Which means I can't lean on a ton of other resources. So for now it's me and Google figuring out effects like how to make it rain inside of a theater."
He Still Aspires To Be Peter Boal
"All my work—whether dance or non-dance content—feels fluid in a way. I was like that as a dancer, too. I always tried to be Peter Boal."
Being a Dancer Can Be Handy—And a Handicap
"My familiarity with dance allows me to make sure the content is enjoyed both by laymen who might not know if the positions are right and the dancers who'll cringe if they're not. But like any perfectionist, sometimes that's too narrow a perspective to have; technique is not always as important as you think it is."
So, What's Next?
"I have a twofold dream: I want to do a feature film, but first, a Target commercial."
Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.
My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
It's Nutcracker time again: the season of sweet delights and a sparkling good time—if we're able to ignore the sour taste left behind by the outdated racial stereotypes so often portrayed in the second act.
In 2017, as a result of a growing list of letters from audience members, to New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief Peter Martins reached out to us asking for assistance on how to modify the elements of Chinese caricature in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Following that conversation, we founded the Final Bow for Yellowface pledge that states, "I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve a diversity amongst our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff, I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages."
An audience member once emailed Dallas choreographer Joshua L. Peugh, claiming his work was vulgar. It complained that he shouldn't be pushing his agenda. As the artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Peugh's recent choreography largely deals with LGBTQ issues.
"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.
With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.