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November 9-15, 2005

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Ramon Moreno

Marlon Fishing Ramon Moreno stretches for his 'Godfather' role in 'Cinema Soundtracks.'

Stepping To the Screen

Daryl Gray turns soundtracks into dances for Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley


By Marianne Messina

AFTER 2 1/2 weeks of rehearsal with a new dance titled Cinema Soundtracks, Daryl Gray and Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley are down to the structural puzzles posed when each dancer has up to five roles (that's five costume changes), and emotional tones can range from cold to romantic to comic. For example, Ramon Moreno must dance a ruthless lead in The Godfather sequence, and a song later become a comic Charlie Chaplin.

The mood swings, the concentrated work of putting together more than a dozen pieces, the logistics of getting dancers who exit from one side to enter with a new costume from the other in 30 seconds—"It's draining," Gray admits. But in a good way.

The soundtracks come from films that span the decades. They include the 1957 war story Bridge Over the River Kwai, the 1973 romance The Way We Were, the 2002 hit among literati The Hours. But Gray only uses these familiar (often award-winning) scores for the emotions or themes they carry. His dance pieces take off from there. "Most important, they have a point of view," Gray notes.

In Cinema Soundtracks, Gray embraces his work in both the theater and the dance worlds. As a result, he sees each dance in terms of its dramatic arc rather than its moment-to-moment abstraction: "I followed the most obvious path, which is my own path."

In conceiving Cinema Soundtracks, Gray heavily researched the history of movie soundtracks going back as far as Chaplin. (He sets his tribute to Chaplin to the Scott Joplin theme song from The Sting.) And it is clear that soundtrack composers formed an inspiration for Gray's process. "They had to pinpoint emotions very quickly," Gray observes. "A director would say, 'I want this feeling, and I want it in 15 seconds.'"

He points out that Alfred Hitchcock often demanded music that could deliver a complex emotional sequence in the time it took to approach and open a door. (Gray has included the theme from Hitchcock's Spellbound in his program.) The decision to treat each three- or four-minute piece as an emotionally satisfying statement with "a beginning, middle and end" forces Gray to emulate the utter directness of the film composers he studied.

"One thing I've learned working with directors and directing some things myself—does it read?" Gray explains. "I think about legibility; it's very important."

To get that clarity, Gray finds himself approaching the dancers more the way a director would, trying to elucidate motivation or to draw out feelings. In the soundtrack from Cinema Paradiso, themed on love, he takes the dancers through the discovery and innocence of first love to the kind of cynicism born of broken hearts to a mature union that has integrated all parts of the past.

At the mature stage, he has the woman (Catharine Grow) touch the face of her lover (Zuri Goldman). "I had to get them ... to find a continuous feeling that would make her take her hands up to him." In this directorial way, Gray cultivates the distinct moves he introduces in his role as a choreographer until they become something more unified, like character.

As he watches the dancers perform his Godfather piece, he speaks from his directorial side: "Guys, you have to remember you're a person, not a dancer playing a person. ... We'll have to work on this."

The dance shows the ironic double nature of family men who can hold family and tradition sacred on the one hand, but who can be brutal and vengeful on the other. "I'm from New York," Gray says. "I know these people." He assumes a different posture as he performs the tie straightening gesture of a guy who's just made a hit. "You see who they are and how they behave in pursuit of their objective—that's what acting's about."


Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley presents Cinema Soundtracks and Grand Pas De Dix Nov. 17-19 at 8pm and Nov. 20 at 1:30pm at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $25-$74. (408.288.2800)

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