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Summer Sling 2010: Saturday

November 2, 2010

Photo by Craig Lawrence

Thanks to Craig for documenting the Sling! That’s me on the left and Ian Rose on the right, in Lewis Shaw’s Fight Logic: Smallsword class.

Details on this and other Saturday classes and sundries:

– Shillelagh with Joe Travers

Or, as Joe described it in the morning gather-round, “Fighting with a stick with a brogue”; the Irish is bataireacht, from bata, “stick.”  The shillelagh has a natural knob for a handhold, and the narrower end is studded with the spiky remains of twigs. The style was developed so that any decently respectable buachaillin could, with his simple blackthorn walking stick, start a hooley in the street.  The moves have innocent names like “say hello” and “give him a hug,” which are a pop to the stomach and a bind-and-trap, respectively, and there are modern schools and traditional schools keeping the art going. Just so we could get a little more Irish, we fought over Bushmills vs. Jameson; Jameson won, clearly. This class really made me want to do a cane and cloak fight.

– Martial Arts Fighting with Ian Rose

So often, unarmed fights  involve two characters who don’t have a lot of training, so they’re just going to be taking wild swings and fighting dirty. You have to stay away from things that look too studied or too Eastern. In this class, we got to break out blocks and traps and kicks and not worry about looking too fast, too smooth, too prepared. It just felt good. Lewis Shaw dropped in — have I mentioned how much I love seeing teachers taking other teachers’ classes? — and I had a great time with Kevin, whom I knew from a couple of classes but haven’t worked with much. Ki-ai!

– Playing the Wound with J. David Brimmer

Wounds. Pain. Consequences. A look at the bigger-picture version of Robert’s You’ve Been Hit a Lot class: what do you do when you’re wounded in a fight? We talked about the reality of wounds: you instinctively go to grab something that hurts, sure, but there’s a bone sticking out, you’re going to pay for touching it. You have to go through the stages of the initial shock, the feeling when the pain hits, the investigation, the acceptance. We talked about how blood loss is, essentially, like being strangled: you breathe hard as your blood pressure drops and your heart rate skyrockets to try to circulate that lowered volume fast enough to get oxygen to all your bits. How there are stages to dying, and, although as performers we don’t have to, and shouldn’t, take 4-15 minutes to die, we can speed it up believably if we remember to go through all the stages.

And then David had us seek some answers for ourselves with his infamous Foam Sword Fight: two combatants with deadly intention, two foam short swords, and all wounds played as if real. It’s riveting; it can actually be hard to watch. After one pair had brought the exercise to its inevitable bloody end, David shook his head and said, “If I could get that energy on stage….”

– Fight Logic: Smallsword

This was my first class with Lewis Shaw, and it was less a smallsword class than a class in the philosophy of choreography. We paired up, and Lewis asked us to throw out some kinds of motivation; we settled on one person seeking revenge, and the other person trying to leave the room. Lewis added that one of us was very experienced, and the other was a novice. We had four moves, no more, to express this. Go.

::the sound of my mind blowing::

After each group showed their piece, we talked about what we got from it and what was effective. What exactly showed his intention to leave? What move told you she was the expert? When you see a show, the fights are long and there’s all that acting stuff going on in between, but here, discussing four moves that had just happened, it was easy to recall specifics and discuss in detail.

The next assignment was to portray a teacher and a student, in the moment where the student first believes she can defeat her master. Just four moves. My partner and I seized on the goal: the student had to do something particularly fast or clever. What would that move be? And then how do we lead up to it? The follow-up sequence was the master putting the student in her place; again, we started with how we would accomplish that goal, and built from there. (Our solution: getting tapped on the ass is always nice and demeaning….) It was great to watch a bunch of  clever people solve the same problems in different ways, and then talk about the process in a largely shared vocabulary.

We’re all at the Sling because we’re more interested in stage combat than Joe Schmo Romeo, and while muscle memory and performance skills are paramount, it’s also good to have a forum to talk as choreographers, or as teachers ourselves, like in Denise’s class. There are eleventy billion shows put on every year in New York, and a lot of them need fight choreography, and it’s not just up to the grown-ups. (I’m feeling an idea coming on…some sort of Young to Publishing analog…a choreographers under 30 event? I will ponder.)

– Sushi, Shakes, Sweet Swords, and SPRs

After classes were over, my brother joined me for dinner and we wandered into Chelsea Market to satisfy my sushi craving. (PROTEEEEIN.) We also ended up with an apple-pie flavored milkshake, which, yum. We wandered back over the studio for weapons night, where Lewis Shaw and Nathan DeCoux were hawking their wares; I was particularly taken with Lewis’s smallswords and Nathan’s daggers and axe. Someday! When I stop spending money on classes! (Also, rent.)

And then it was time for SPRs (Skills Proficiency Renewals), and a big crowd gathered to cheer people on. There were two stand-out fights for me that night: In their unarmed renewal, Cory and Danny exploded out of the gate. Their energy was so fierce, but it came less from their speed than from the fact that they filled every moment with tension and reactions. Adjudicator David Brimmer likes to give renewers notes and have them do their scene again, and often he’ll say to up the stakes and up the energy. Cory and Danny started way up there, and it was captivating.

Teachers Robert Westley and Angela Bonacasa choreographed their own hilarious singlesword renewal. There was barely any dialogue, but their physical performances established them as the cocky expert and the scrappy upstart, and Robert got his comeuppance in the end. I loved when he pinned her sword to the wall, and she tried to pull it away once..twice..thee times…he wound up to punch her, she ducked,  he hit the wall instead, and, coming up, she punched him. Comedy gold.

I also learned that David has a bit of a pet peeve about people doing cutesy things when they slate. Just say your name and get on with it; whatever you think of doing, he’s seen it.

And that was the 2010 Summer Sling. Till next year…! Although maybe in the mean time I’ll make it to some other regional workshops.

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