Just as the music in Across the Universe would be a radical reinvention of the wellknown songs, the film also required a unique look to the choreography. The film had to be a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
“I didn’t want this to be a ‘dance’ musical,” says Taymor. Although there is quite a bit of dance in the film, she says, “We talked a lot about using everyday movement as the vocabulary.” To bring this vision to life, Taymor called upon Daniel Ezralow a choreographer with whom she has collaborated on several other works.
“Danny straddles the theatrical modern dance world as well as pop, and circus, and acrobats, and everyday movement,” she says. “If you look at ‘With a Little Help from My Friends,’ the choreography is people sliding down banisters, it’s leaping up and falling into couches. If you look at ‘Come Together,’ you see the people in the street, walking in unison with briefcases. Some sequences are more ‘dance-y’ than others, but the pieces that feel like they’re organically coming from naturalistic movement work beautifully.”
“From the very beginning, I wanted Across the Universe to be totally naturalistic and unlike any other musical,” says Ezralow. “I said that out loud, and then I was stuck. There were witnesses!”
Ezralow’s idea was that the film would take its cues from the way we all move through the world now. “Everyone has their iPods on – they close the world,” he says. “As you do, as you look at other people, it’s like walking through a movie. It’s an altered experience. Every day, as I rode the subway on my way to the set, I would listen to the songs from Across the Universe and imagine movement.”
“Julie encourages us to see things differently,” Ezralow says. “When you’re a foreigner in a country, sometimes you get a better sense of what that country is like than someone who has lived there all his life, because you’re seeing it with fresh eyes. So it’s a little trick I play on myself – I try to be a stranger to dance all the time.”
Of course, the film does feature a couple of more traditional dance sequences. For these, Ezralow cast some of Broadway’s and the world’s finest dancers to fill more than 350 dancing roles. The casting process was often difficult because many of these dancers were appearing in shows every night. For the “induction center” sequence, set to the song “I Want You,” the dancers playing the “sergeants” had to report at 3:30 in the morning to begin complicated makeup and prosthetics – and many had been dancing on a Broadway stage until 11 PM the previous night.
“Mark Friedberg, the production designer, and Julie and I sat together and talked about the sequence early on,” Ezralow remembers. “It was a whirlwind, wonderfully improvisational day. Everyone contributed something – Julie, concept; me, dance; Mark, design. The sequence ends up being surreal and artistically playful, but also powerful and poignant.”
“Come Together” represents the other true highlight of choreography in the film. At one point, 140 people move in unison in midtown Manhattan; at another moment during the song, the filmmakers envisioned a Rube Goldberg-style device timed to the song. Ezralow says that the song is “a middle point in the film; we define what New York City in the 60s was all about.”
Related Link: View the Full Production Notes for Across the Universe