This week I thought I’d give you some insight into the rehearsal process for Checkmate, a piece Frog in Hand created for the Mississauga Waterfront Festival in 2014. We performed a remount on Canada Day at Mississauga's Living Arts Centre. This piece tells the classic story of chess pieces coming to life - two opposing teams (white and black just like a real chess game), battle for victory. Each dancer embodies an archetypal character based on chess pieces: two kings, two queens, two knights, and a black bishop and a white pawn. Both teams also have a herald, clown-like characters who are enchanted into playing the game with us.
Remounting a piece that is so character-driven was an interesting challenge. My character, the black knight, was originally played by Mateo Galindo Torres, who is a phenomenal and highly physical performer. Mateo played a flashy, proud, and bloodthirsty knight. This sometimes eerie, unsettling portrayal was a useful jumping off point for me, and inspired me to research how I could embody and create my own black knight. At first I found myself trying to imitate Mateo – picturing him as the character. I began to ask if the black knight must now change because I am a woman playing this character? Does that fundamentally change this character's identity? Should I be thinking about femininity? Can I be aggressive and disgusting and feminine at the same time? My interpretation of the black knight became animalistic, which made me question if gender even mattered. To help work though these questions, I took inspiration from wolves – I think it was easier for me to be evil and violent if I imagined I’m something non-human. With the image of a wolf, I felt like I could attribute my bloodlust to a primal need to protect my team. This image also helped me reconcile being a subordinate to the royalty on my team, and clarified my relationships with my teammates – my interpretation of the black knight is still proud, but she's also fiercely loyal and seeks approval and permission from the black queen.
To prepare for this piece, many of the dancers asked similar questions about how they could recreate their characters. The dancers also took stage combat workshops at Rapier Wit, training with Fight Master Daniel Levinson. Andrew Gaboury (the herald on the black team) led a workshop where he introduced us to some physical theatre and clowning work in order to help us embody our characters. Andrew discussed the idea of “eye contact as consent” in his workshop as a means of checking in with the person you're partnering with before beginning an exercise, and a similar theme is present in stage combat in order to safely execute the choreography. This concept of connecting with the people you're working with has really influenced the way I interact with the other dancers in the Fringe piece we are rehearsing ("The Fall"), and I absolutely will continue to think about it in future classes and processes.The stage combat and physical theatre workshops really excited me in general, and I definitely plan on seeking out training in both those areas in the future!
Speaking of The Fall, we premiere on July 7th!
- Clarke Blair