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By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 29, 2003
Originally Published on

This is a conversation with Elie Lazar at Route 66 Restaurant, 56th Street and 9th Avenue, over Cappuccino. Elie Lazar has a warm and dynamic personality, is overflowing with ideas and vision, and is a veritable human encyclopedia of dance. We discussed his philosophy of teaching dance, his life in Israel, his love of opera, his experience in Japan, and his hopes for himself as a choreographer, as well as his hopes for his dance students. Elie Lazar is the subject of this Inside Perspective.

Elie Lazar at Route 66
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

REZ: What is the most satisfying aspect of your teaching career?

EL: The influence one can have on the student. First, when teaching technique and discipline, the teacher passes so much of what HE is about. The strengths, values and notions of life are passed on to the students. Often it involves doing things that the teacher never got a chance to do himself, but dreamed about. Then, it is time to release all control, to observe the strengthened abilities and blossoming of the dancer. That to me is thrilling!

REZ: How did you start your teaching career?

EL: Looking back, I can perceive all the layers of teaching that I went through. Teaching, like most else, is a process. When I started to teach ballet in Israel at the Haifa Ballet School at age 17, my students were three and four year olds. Then, I taught six and seven year olds, progressing during the next years to more advanced students.

REZ: What do you think were the influences that helped you develop as teacher, dancer, and finally choreographer?

EL: Without doubt, the intense training in the Israeli Army instilled in me a sense of directing people and administration skills. It was a tough time, with my feet in blisters, but I learned to overcome obstacles and achieve the confidence of giving orders to subordinates.

At an early age, I began to listen to operatic records that I bought for my parents to celebrate their anniversary. But, it was me who listened to them continually. As time went by, my addiction to opera grew. I learned all 29 of Verdi's operas by heart. I was originally going to be a conductor. Soon, I had 500 albums of opera. Now I realize how much I learned from opera. The musicality and the structure of opera helped me later, when I devoted myself to ballet and choreography. It seems that so much in life that may seem accidental or incidental becomes a vital part of the picture forming.

REZ: Tell me about your transplanting from Israel to the USA.

EL: The Haifa Ballet School, where I was training, sent me to the Jackson (Mississippi) International Ballet competition in 1986. Seeing so many different dancers opened my eyes to see new possibilities that I was not exposed to in Israel. Working with acclaimed choreographers, I quickly rose to become Principal Dancer with the company. Twelve years were spent with New Jersey Ballet and guesting with other companies internationally.

REZ: During this time as Principal Dancer, what inspired you to attempt choreography?

EL: There were types of ballets that I wanted the company to dance. I created 10 ballets for the New Jersey Ballet. Also, most dancers are type cast, and there were ballets that I wanted to do, but was not given the opportunity to do so. This motivated me to create in a different style, that I was accustomed to perform. It is this time in my life when I can gather all the various experiences I have had, not only as a performer, but an administrator, to wear a mantle of choreographer/director/producer. It is a wonderful feeling to encourage the various pieces to fall together into a beautiful, complete picture.

REZ: The Joffrey Ensemble Dancers have been garnering much attention in the brief existence of the company. How did you create the notion of such a company?

EL: Shortly after I began to teach at the Joffrey School, I realized there is a lot of young talent that needs further training and direction. The opportunity of creating a company structure that would offer them the experience necessary to move on and become professional seemed both viable and vital. I knew that with the material that I danced and the amount that I choreographed, I would be able to put together programs that would be versatile and challenging. At the same time, audiences could experience an enrichment of new material with new dancers. The dancers would get to energetically perform for audiences, stretching their talents to new levels.

REZ: Where do you and the Joffrey Ensemble Dancers go from here?

EL: I want to secure a stable environment that will accommodate the performers and encourage more performances. We need to continue to grow and experience. Our dancers are being invited around the country. Hopefully, future collaborations with musicians, designers and choreographers will result from this expanded network. As our reputation grows, so will the opportunities for expanded repertoire and performance time.

REZ: How many years did you spend in Japan?

EL: For the past five years I've traveled to Japan, once a year. I was teaching and choreographing for the Kumamoto Ballet and the Tokyo City Ballet. In 2005 I will present a new production of A Midsummer Night Dream. In the past years, I choreographed Papillion to Offenbach music, Suite Fragment to N. Gade music and a suite from Swan Lake. I am planning to create a new ballet, during my visit to Japan this coming December.

REZ: Thank you so much.


For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at