Choreographing the Dance of Violence
Another evening of rehearsal for the upcoming production of Moby-Dick. This night is slightly different– the large set is filled with just climbers, acrobats and supers; no chorus or principal singers. Tonight is not about music, it is about violence.
The wiry fight director stands amidst a tight knot of fifteen men. They are part of the ragtag crew of the Pequod. The mood is very light – joking banter is punctuated by hardy masculine laughter. But now it is time to get serious. After a moment the fight director barks out “SET?” and all fifteen men go to their places and reply “SET!” Then the order - “GO!”
A full-fledged brawl breaks out on stage. Men grapple each other with deadly intent, balled-up fists fly, bodies slam into the deck, feet connect with ribcages, necks snap like tooth picks. “HOLD!” commands the stunt director and all the action instantly stops. Each man is perfectly still in their fight position, like vicious statues.
Staging a fight for an opera is very much like choreographing an extremely dangerous looking dance. For a handful of seconds of stage violence it takes hours of planning, preparation, timing and rehearsal. The moves look incredibly fierce - but they are calculated to be safe. The wellbeing of the performers is paramount to everyone. Every precaution is taken to ensure that no one gets hurt. Accidents do happen, but fortunately they are few and far between. Precision, control and trust are enormous components of making sure the fight looks real, but not dangerous. Stage combat is not about anger, but about controlled chaos.
Who are these supers who voluntarily spend their evenings throwing punches, getting kicked and rolling on the deck? Supers come from all walks of life. By day they are teachers, lifeguards, engineers, businessmen. Yet when it is time for rehearsal they transform into the intrepid sailors who inhabit Melville’s watery world. The one thing that connects and binds these people is the love of the opera. They willingly spend their free time in the rehearsal hall and backstage. There is a certain kind of creative energy that is generated as performers put together a production. Ask any super, there is something very addictive about being in an opera. It is a lot of work, but ultimately very rewarding. For many opera lovers – it is an opportunity to be part of the process that brings music alive. Besides…it isn’t every day that you get to wear a costume and brawl in front of an audience of nearly three thousand people.
The fighting stops and the laughing and joking starts again. Men who were moments before pummeling each other are now helping each other up and giving friendly pats on the back. The crew of the Pequod gets back into their starting positions. “SET?” the stunt director asks. “SET!” is the resounding reply. “GO!”
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