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A Conversation with Elie Lazar, Artistic Director, Montgomery Ballet
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A Conversation with Elie Lazar, Artistic Director, Montgomery Ballet

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A Conversation with Elie Lazar
Artistic Director, Montgomery Ballet

The Courtyard
2101 Eastern Boulevard
Suite 223
Montgomery, Alabama 36117

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 12, 2009

I was recently joined for Brunch at Mustang Harry’s by Elie Lazar, Artistic Director, Montgomery Ballet (See Montgomery Ballet photos below). The last time we sat down for an interview was in 2003, when Elie was Founder and Artistic Director of Joffrey Ensemble Dancers. This Israeli-born Dancer, Choreographer, Artistic Director, is always full of life and new, creative ideas, whether he is based in New York, New Jersey (where he was a Principal Dancer with New Jersey Ballet), Alabama, or Israel, where he grew up in the ballet community, appearing with the Israel National Opera, the Haifa Ballet, and the Inbar Dance Company. Lazar was known as a bravura dancer, in principal roles, such as Mercutio (Romeo and Juliet), Ali the Slave in Le Corsaire, and the male role in Balanchine’s Tarantella.

Lazar spoke about his fresh vision for Montgomery Ballet and the opportunity to bring his knowledge of dance to the Capital of Alabama, which is steeped in family values and celebrates a new multi-ethnic community. Lazar said he loves “the art of dance, and the art of ballet shows respect to human physicality and spirituality, experiences that elate the spirit”. We turned to Paul Taylor, the great Modern Dance Choreographer and Artistic Director, whose Company I have extensively reviewed. Lazar spoke of Taylor as one who has “true genius, whose passion and love introduces concepts.” He went on, “One of the things art does, it gives pride.”

Lazar choreographs his own works, such as Sleeping Beauty, Coppélia, Jardin Animé, and Flames of Paris, and Lazar is a gold-medal winner . He has also won grants and commissions to choreograph ballets for Atlanta’s Georgia Youth Ballet, Japan’s Kumamoto Ballet, and the Berkshire Albany Ballet. At the Joffrey Ballet School, Lazar targeted and taught students for his own company, Joffrey Ensemble Dancers, where he introduced his own Night in the Tropics, Concerto for Dancers and String Orchestra, and more. He also created lecture-demonstrations in the schools and taught master classes and intensive workshops. Lazar continues to teach dancers and dance students around the globe, including at Tokyo Ballet and Univ. of Kansas City. For Montgomery Ballet, Lazar has brought his own choreography for Coppélia, The Nutcracker, Gloria, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lost, The Story of Carmen, and Petipa’s Le Corsaire/Le Jardin Animé.

Lazar says that “…dancers’ personalities enhance their performance, that arm and leg posture create lightness and grounding, and that the slight turn of the head and holding the neck high create the illusion of confidence, pride, and alertness. The way the dancer’s body is perceived by the viewer is important”, and he mentioned Makarova’s interpretation of her performance and choreography of La Bayadère. He said that “…serious partnerships create pride and inspiration, offer a purpose, the opposite of boredom. …In partnerships, dancers find themselves together as a physical being”.

At this point in the conversation, we turned to Lazar’s early ballet training, when he was in a special program for gifted dancers in the Israeli Army. In 1981, he was in Lebanon and had one day off every two weeks for dance training. Although his feet were understandably swollen, and he had to run two miles each morning, he made it to Haifa to his bi-weekly classes. Lazar was a Head Medic in the Israeli Army, overseeing 19-35 medics and 7 doctors. He learned to organize people into groups, create schedules, and supervise. These transferable skills assisted his work in ballet teaching and administration. In 1981-84, Lazar studied for a competition in Jackson, Mississippi, and then he received a contract to travel to New York.

After the competition, he joined the Garden State Ballet and later the New Jersey Ballet, where he danced Tarantella. He recalls more favorite roles, such as the Blue Bird in Sleeping Beauty, Ali the Slave in Le Corsaire, The Rose in Spectre de la Rose, as well as Bournonville roles, Cuban ballets, and more. Lazar was Artistic Director at Joffrey Ensemble Dancers for five years. He has now happily settled in at Montgomery Ballet, founded in 1958, with its 16 professional dancers and 32 week Season. There’s a Summer Intensive, Children’s Workshops, Outdoor Performances in the Park, and Ballet and the Beast in the Montgomery Zoo in September. To see the 2009-2010 Montgomery Ballet Season Calendar, click here. Montgomery Alabama is said to be an elegant city, and I look forward to visiting in the future and catching a few performances of Montgomery Ballet.

Flowers from "The Nutcracker"
Choreography by Elie Lazar
Alexandra Giuffre and Montgomery Ballet Corps
Courtesy of Chris Helton

"Lost: The Story of Carmen"
Choreography by Elie Lazar
Ginny Smith and Christopher Ashe
Courtesy of Chris Helton

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