Power, corruption, intrigue, romance and above all swashbuckling come to Bradford’s Alhambra when Alexandre Dumas’ classic tale, The Three Musketeers, is brought to life as a ballet for the very first time.
David Nixon, who has choreographed this new production for Northern ballet Theatre, explains what drew him to the story: “Firstly, the opportunity to work with different collaborators stimulates something new in our work. Also the action-orientated plot is beautifully simple and a perfect vehicle to develop new techniques with our male dancers in some truly exciting fighting scenes.”
One very important collaborator has been fight director Renny Krupinski who has been bringing realistic fight scenes to stage and screen for a number of years as well as continuing his award-winning career as actor, writer and director. He is probably best known to TV audiences as Brookside villain Sizzler.
This is the first time Renny has worked in ballet but it’s certainly something he can’t wait to repeat: “This is an extraordinary experience because the dancers have a fantastic muscle memory. You show it to them once, maybe twice and they’ve got it. The working process here is very different.”
But what exactly does a fight arranger do? For Renny there is a certain similarity with dance: “I arrange fights, I choreograph violence. It’s a strange job doing simulated violence around the Country. I make it safe. I make it realistic. I make it work in the context of the production so it’s not just coming in and doing a punch-up. It actually has to be choreographed and I have to say I never thought there would be as much demand for someone who does what I do but I never really seem to stop working…so I must be doing something right.”
Certainly The Three Musketeers is a story that can’t be told without a bit of stage fighting…Renny says: ” I think the audinece coming to see The Three Musketeers expects there to be fighting and that’s what we’ve given them. The dancers really have their work cut out, but it’s not a fight from start to finish…there’s a lot of really beautiful ballet in there. It’s never been done as a ballet before, and that’s very exciting.”
“I have to say David (Nixon) and I had no real idea of how this was going to work and we didn’t know if he was going to choreograph and I was going to put fights in there or I was going to choreograph and he was going to put some ballet moves in…but it’s not worked like that at all. I work with the music, I work with the dancers and we’ve created and fight that works with the characters. I asked the dancers, ‘what do you think you can do?’ and they’ve given me fantastic leaps and jumps and have really brought the ballet into the fight. We presented it to David and he liked it.”
“You find when you are working with music you haven’t got enought fight so you have to put more in. You’ve got the perfect ending and find you’ve got to insert bits int he middle. I suppose it’s like kneading dough…you eventually shape it, cook it and present it.”
For most of us dancng and sword-fighting at the same time would be something of an impossibility. For Renny precision is the key to safety:“The swords are real swords and the reality is they can kill you. They’ll go in you if you get it wrong and go through you if you poke them hard enough. That’s the reality…but we have to make the audience aware that the dancers are not using little bits of plastic or wood. The swords are heavy. I’m teaching the dancers to fight in a way that looks real and looks dangerous but actually isn’t. Everything that happens on stage has been carefully choreographed, nothing has been improvised. Every step, every nuance has been put in and made to look as though it’s a fresh thought – that’s the trick of it.
It’s the first time real fights have been used in a ballet, usually the fights are just ‘danced’. But, Renny points out, this production is different: “We have the ballerinas looking as though they’re really going for each other with a knife. It’s a real tussle of a fight. The dancers all seem to love learning a different discipline, But it’s hard for them and they are having to learn to pace themselves and build up a stamina for it…which I find surprising.”
But being a fight arranger doesn’t seem to be such an easy job. Renny is a qualified fencing coach and a senior grade in Iwama style Aikido. His first experience of stage fighting was at drama school but after his first few roles on stage he didn’t pick up a sword for ten years: “I always wanted to but I was always the character who went, ‘there’s a fight going on over there’ or I’d run off and get the police and I’d never get involved.” The day came though when touring a production of Macbeth Renny offered to look after the fight scenes during the tour. After a year or two he was encouraged to join the Equity Register of Fight Directors and discovered he had to have qualifications in martial arts, first aid and have reached coaching level in fencing.
Renny adds: “Even when I qualified I didn’t think it would be a career but it changed my life. I still act, but the fight side has really taken over and I seem to work every day of the week doing a fight somewhere, which is extraordinary. I never thought there would be that kind of demand. It’s a good job and I like it. It’s not for everyone, but it suits me.”
So why does Renny spend his days making an art out of fighting? It’s certainly not because he enjoys a good brawl: “I have to say I’ve never had a fight in my life and I don’t want one. I suppose what I do is revert to my childhood and play. My imagination takes me places and I always ask my cast and the director, ‘in an ideal world what do you really want to happen?’ because people tend to think within the confines of the theatre and of what they think is possible. That’s what’s exciting, the creation of an image of violence rather than being violent.”
“I also believe if you’ve got violence in a production you can’t glorify it. Violence is ugly, it’s nasty, it hurts, it causes death. It’s all those awful things. You have to show it for what it is and satisfy the story. The characters can’t be playing at it.
Northern Ballet Theatre’s The Three Musketeers has it’s world premiere at the Alhambra, Bradford on Saturday 23rd September 2006.