Star choreographer Charles Moulton goes Sci-Fi with an outlandish Matrix number
by Paul Parish
Modern dance hangouts were abuzz with gossip a few months ago about - of all things - the Matrix Sequel. We’d all heard that the film was shooting in the Bay Area, but the big news in the dance world was that Oakland-based choreographer Charles Moulton had been selected to create a colossal sequence for it. As the world-renowned Moulton geared up for the most bizarre project and venue (the Alameda naval base) of his career, dancers spread the word that there would be plenty of work: A thousand of them were needed for the number.
Moulton can speak only for his four, maybe five, minutes of screen time, but he likens the footage to that of Cecil B. DeMille. Yes, that’s right: A Keanu Reeves movie has been compared with The Ten Commandments. "I saw the dailies, and they were absolutely spectacular. When we were shooting, there were hordes of people. They were using cranes, huge dollies, cables. Cameras came swooping down over the crowd.
"What they were doing was absolutely wild." Apparently, what they were shooting was too. Moulton, whose rambling resume includes the "Nine Person Precision Ball Passing" number—a knot of black-clad dancers passing hot-orange balls in quick, intricate patterns—outdid himself with the Matrix dance. "It’s huge," he says. "Colossal." He signed a gag order with Warner Bros., so he isn’t allowed to elaborate or explain how exactly a thousand-person dance would fit into the plot of the sci-fi movie. (Those who saw the first Matrix might have a sense of the wild visual imagery involved.)
When Moulton discusses the feeling of the dance, though, you gather that it might look like a Jacuzzi with every gizmo going. Or a wildfire in a high wind. It isn’t about tight rhythms, as the ball-passing was; rather, it’s syncopated, fugal: Six or seven distinct movement patterns get taken up by groups of 100 dance couples, so that the patterns rip through the entire crowd. He sounds like a DJ describing it: "It’s like making music, mixing together elements. It’s more about energy, like a field of activity."
Moulton started with a core group of 11 and trained them, then graduated to a group of 100, and finally incorporated the rest of the dancers. He can't say whether Reeves will be part of the scene, but he did have a chance to see the star in action. "Having worked with the best in the world, with Merce [Cunningham] and Baryshnikov, I can say he’s very physically disciplined. He takes instruction well. And I think he’s great in his movies. I watched the first Matrix, and I thought he was brilliant." We’ll see about round two. The film wrapped production last month; it’s scheduled for release in 2003.