How do you honor a comedian lauded for her physical humor and awkward dancing? Commission a contemporary dance, of course. Better yet, have the stars of HBO's "Broad City," Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer—physical comedians and awkward dancers in their own right—star in a contemporary dance.
Last month, comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus was awarded the 2018 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at The Kennedy Center. (The ceremony airs tonight on PBS.) Most known for her role as Elaine on "Seinfeld," Louis-Dreyfus has had a long career of tickling funny bones, from her start at Chicago's Second City, then on "Saturday Night Live," CBS's "The New Adventures of the Old Christine" and now as foul-mouthed Vice President Selina Meyer on "Veep."
The "Broad City" gals determined that the best way to honor their idol was to dance, an appropriate choice considering "The Elaine," the dance that became Louis-Dreyfus' piece de resistance on "Seinfeld." (Not to mention her other go-to physical comedy moments as Elaine, like "The Shove"—hands on the chest, forcefully pushing one's companion back, sometimes with the exclamation "Get out!"—or the twitchy forefinger devil horns.)
But Jacobson and Glazer needed a professional to truly do justice to "The Elaine," so they hired Washington, D.C.–based choreographer Robert Priore and his company, PrioreDance, to help them make a piece incorporating the most iconic of Louis-Dreyfus' moves:
How Priore Made "Seinfeld"-Inspired Choreography
Priore grew up in a "Seinfeld"-watching family and is a "Broad City" fan, so he was ready when he got the call to choreograph the piece just days before the ceremony. "Julia's use of physical comedy is so unique and so awesome to watch," he says. "It wasn't that common for a female comedian to be so physical then." To prepare for the commission, Priore immersed himself in Elaine clips. "I looked at it from a choreographer's standpoint and said to myself, This dance is so awkward that it's amazing. But then I had to ask, What is it that she's actually doing?"
What It Was Like to Work with Abbi and Ilana
As a huge fan of their show, Priore didn't know what to expect when Abbi and Ilana showed up at rehearsal, and worried that they "were going to be divas and hate everything we did." Luckily, that wasn't the case. But since they only had two brief one-hour rehearsals prior to taping, Glazer asked Priore to break down the piece into five discrete sections that they could easily absorb and remember.
In the hilarious video package shown at the ceremony, Glazer and Jacobson struggle to teach Louis-Dreyfus' virtuosic silliness to Priore's highly trained and facile dancers. By the time they're ready for their Kennedy Center premiere, the "Broad City" pair have found new respect for both contemporary dance and Louis-Dreyfus. Glazer even whimpers, "I didn't think it was going to be this hard."
The Four Steps To Master "The Elaine"
"'The Elaine' dance is one of the most difficult techniques in the whole world," says Jacobson in the video. So what does it take to execute it properly? Priore broke down the steps for the audience at the Mark Twain Awards before the show, and shared them with us:
1. Stand up. "Because you can't do 'The Elaine' dance sitting."
2. Two strong thumbs.
3. Throw the head back, right or left. "It's versatile."
4. Give a good kick and sickle that foot.
"My personal favorite part of 'The Elaine' is the way she can sickle her foot," he says. "It is unbelievable. She can sickle so far across and do this kind of disjointed kick." Asked if there's an evening-length piece in the works, the choreographer demurred. "But if there was," Priore says, "I'd call it Elaine Lake."