Filmmaker Ezra Hurwitz's Spotlight on Martha Graham

Ezra Hurwitz is a rising star in the film community who has developed a dedicated following over the last two years. A former dancer with the Miami City Ballet, he brings refined aesthetic sensibilities to cinematography and a deep passion for dance as an art form. I recently had the chance to interview Hurwitz, who has two new film releases. Martha Graham at the Library follows the process of mounting the Martha Graham at the Library Festival at the Library of Congress, with a spotlight on the legacies of Martha Graham and Isamu Noguchi. Also featured in the film is Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg, whose new dance Woodland premieres at the Library of Congress on Friday, April 1. Hurwitz also released In the Countenance of Kings, a preview of a new work for San Francisco Ballet by Justin Peck.

[NAB] How does your background as a dancer influence your approach to cinematography?

[EH] My background as a dancer certainly informs my work in film. For one thing, when I shoot dance understanding the vocabulary helps me to zero in on aesthetic details that might read well on screen, and know which angles to shoot them from. I think my background in movement and musicality also really helps in the editing process, and allows me to a find a flow and pace in the edit. Lastly, the discipline and attention to detail required in dance definitely translate well to the hours of painstaking work that go into all stages of filmmaking.

[NAB] In what ways do you capture the unique artistic profiles of the dance companies that you've created films for?

[EH] My approach has really been to capture a sentiment and unspoken energy found in the choreography. That energy is usually something unique to the company performing the work. It's usually a feeling that you can't put your finger on. It's something specific to the experience of listening to live music and watching live dance. Unfortunately, that sensation often gets lost on screen, even when recording live performances--so it's about using film devices to achieve something powerful.

[NAB] You did a fantastic job incorporating Irving Fine's Notturno in this film. How did you approach synthesizing this specific musical work with the rehearsal and interview footage?

[EH] The Notturno for strings and harp is a magnificent work. It's a work that evolves over the three movements and 20 some odd minutes, so condensing that evolution into 6 minutes wasn't easy. Still, I wanted to incorporate that diversity in tone so that the 6 minute film didn't fall flat or feel monotonous. It required me to really take a part the music and rearrange sections in a way I hope the composer, Irving Fine, wouldn't mind. Fortunately, Irving Fine is my late grandfather, so if he's looking down on this he's hopefully feeling a little more accommodating.

[NAB] Which dancers and choreographers influenced your dancing?

[EH] I trained in the Balanchine style and technique at the School of American Ballet. The George Balanchine classics will always have a dear place in my heart. The ease and grace of former New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Peter Boal (current artistic director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet) also really had an impact on me, and maybe even my filmmaking now that I think about it.

[NAB] Your films have developed a dedicated following in the dance community. Which aspects of your aesthetic resonate most with audiences?

[EH] Well, I have no clue! I'm just grateful that people appreciate the work, and watch it! I think a lot of the appeal has to do with the amazing artists I'm capturing on film--they truly make the work what it is.

[NAB] What are some of your upcoming film projects?

[EH] I'm currently working on a project for the Miami City Ballet's new production of Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream, as well as some more commercial-non dance work. Stay tuned!

Ezra Hurwitz's films are available on YouTube and vimeo. His debut film was The Dancer (2014), featuring New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Gonzalo Garcia.