Thrust, parry, riposte

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At the end of lLD, not to give the thing away, the Vicomte de Valmont dies in a swordfight.


What could possibly be better than dying in a swordfight at the end of a play?

The problem, really, is that we haven’t much room on stage (the duel will be one-up, that is, in front of the proscenium curtain)(the proscenium! he says, shaking his fist), and we don’t have the costume budget for the Buckets of Blodo that are, of course, in my Grand Guignol dreams. Oh, and none of us are much good at swordfighting.

Your Humble Blogger took fencing classes in college, to satisfy the old phys ed requirement, and was directed in one fencing scene at the time (by a college buddy who had no experience at choreographing swordfights, but studied the matter seriously, books and videos and all). Our Director learned stage combat at RADA, forty years ago or so, at a time when in all likelihood the actresses were given less serious fencing instruction than the actors. The fellow playing Danceny is reasonably athletic, has done stage combat once, and has never taken any fencing.

So, for assistance in this delicate matter, we applied for outside help to ... another fellow who knows nothing about choreographing swordfights. Well, and this fellow is a dancer and choreographer of some substantial renown, and if he doesn’t know swordfights, he knows, as he put it, “what looks good.” And so he does. And since his particular skill, well, one of his particular skills is collaborative choreography, he put up with all of our suggestions and improvisations very nicely, incorporating them into an overall design, keeping in mind the rhythm and the pacing of the thing, and in the end we have, on paper, a very nice swordfight.

Hm. I’ll qualify that a bit. As with most good-looking swordfights, we are doing a fair amount of pointless noise-and-motion clanging away that has nothing whatsoever to do with actually killing or disarming each other. My old college buddy (referred to above) would not have been happy with that. Since he taught me a little about stage combat, I’ve watched movie swordplay with a different eye, and I’ve noticed that a lot. In real fencing, there isn’t actually a lot of wasted movement. Either a thrust is meant to hit home, or it’s meant to get the opponent out of position so that the next blow will get through. On the defensive end, the goal is to parry with as little movement as possible, so that the attacker fails to get you out of position. If the guy isn’t going to hit you with a swing, you aren’t going to stick your sword out to block it.

And, of course, we are pretending to fight with sabers, rather than (as the stage directions indicate) pretending to fight with epees. This gives us the pretence that the edges matter a little, so a great big slash across might actually achieve something more than a bruise. Not that I’m that keen on bruises, but, really, if you are fighting epee, and your opponent does a great big slashing move, you should just let him whack you with the side of his blade, and while he’s doing it, just slip the point of your epee into, well, wherever you want, because he can’t do anything about it at all.

But the choreographer is right. It does look good. Oh, there may possibly be people (other than my Best Reader) who will see the thing and know enough about swords to know that it’s all bollocks, but then it’s the theater, darlings, it’s supposed to be fake. And it’s three minutes or so of noise and motion, and then... lo, I am slain.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

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