Daniel Ezralow’s “Pearl” at the David H. Koch Theater
Daniel Ezralow directed and choreographed Pearl, a multimedia extravaganza inspired by the life of author, Pearl S. Buck. Pearl appeared at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater for a limited run of four nights only, Aug 27 – 30, 2015.
Ms. Buck is the first woman to win both the Nobel and the Pulitzer Prizes. She spent most of life before 1934 in China. Her parents, both Americans, were missionaries who went to China when Ms. Buck was only three months old. Her first language was Chinese. She grew up along Yangtze River which allowed her a unique perspective into the life of the Chinese peasant. This was the subject of Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Good Earth, a best-seller for both 1931 and 1932.
To say that Ms. Ezralow’s Pearl was a multimedia production is just a nice way of saying that he pulled out the bells and whistles. The dance play is told in an abstract manner, each section defined by a combination of lighting, sound and the positioning and movement of the set. The stage was divided in two sections by a 150’ by 6’ river of lazily flowing water. As the story unfolded a dancer would periodical stand on a small raft while the river transported them across the stage. The reminiscence of rice fields is unmistakable in the flooring’s design; a rich brown color with curving lines as if the rows of a freshly plowed field waiting to be planted.
Christopher Akerlind created a masterful lighting design that wove color and drama into an imaginative place of startling beauty and mysticism. He applied lighting that was bold, rich and luminance. Mr. Akerlind’s choices in the manner in which he applied lighting were enhanced by his choosing to work with a palette rich in bold colors. Without a doubt it was Mr. Akerlind’s brilliant lighting design that was the glue that held this story together. The lighting was more than inspired…it was sheer genius!
Ms. Buck’s return to the United States is marked by the sounds of Ragtime, a party or gathering seems to be commencing, everyone happy. But mixed in with the Ragtime are haunting melodies played on Chinese instruments, a reminder that though she is American by birth, China will forever be a part of her heart.
Special Guest Artist Margie Gillis portrayed a more mature Pearl who was transitioning into her writing career. Ms. Gillis would intersperse her movements with short choppy motions utilizing her arms and upper torso. The unmistakable sound of a manual typewriter is heard. Behind her is seen several long and wide white fabrics unfolding from the rafters. As Ms. Gillis dances letters and then later words could be seen floating up the fabrics.
Pearl, though visual beautiful, was not without its flaws. Daniel Ezralow’s choreography seemed lacking in imagination. Nowhere in the production did I witness innovation in his manner of movement phrasing or toward his approach to use of the body in space. His movements and choreographic phrasing seemed dated and predictable. Mr. Ezralow, who danced in Paul Taylor’s company, perhaps sticks to closely to Mr. Taylor’s movement choices and choreographic style.
The musical score, though clever enough seemed at times a bit cliché. The score in hindsight was what you would expect from a production such as Pearl, a blend of Eastern and Western music. Missing greatly was a character(s) playing a traditional Chinese instrument such as an erhu or qinqin, Sadly the score was taped; a live orchestra could have enriched the productions in ways unimaginable.
Thought Daniel Ezralow’s Pearl is not without its fault it is still a beautiful production and well worth seeing. I felt it could easily be made into a Broadway production, the story line and concept are both rich enough