Feature: Northern Ballet Theatre - up for a fight

Thursday 31 May 2007

RennyKrupinski *For Northern Ballet Theatre’s production of The Three Musketeers, Artistic Director David Nixon wanted real, convincing swashbuckling – not the
95% dance to 5% fight usually found in ballet – so he brought in one theatre’s
best known Fight Directors.*

*Renny Krupinski talks about creating stage fights – and the experience of working
with dancers for the first time.*

How did you initially get into fight direction?

It was an accident really. I trained as an actor and whilst at drama school I
discovered I was good at stage fighting. I saw it as a way of making a bit of
extra money so I offered my services to help with fights. I got in touch with
the British Society of Fight Directors to get all the necessary qualifications to teach stage fighting. Still having
got all that I didn’t realise it’d become a career. Nowadays I never stop! I never
know what is going to happen. Every day is different, every fight is different
and everyone you work with is different.

How do you create a new fight?

You create the fights through working with different personalities but you can
only do this if you have a solid base to work from. It has to have a story to
it and that’s what I enjoy, making it character-based and pursuing the story of
whatever you’re trying to tell through the fight. The audience are not just watching
a fight they are watching the story develop.

How do you make a fight look realistic?

It’s to do with dramatic intention. It’s no good just pointing a sword at someone
or throwing your fist around wildly! If there is a mental reason for violence
there is a physical reason as well and that’s what I try and explain to everybody.
There’s always got to be a reason for everything you do so that everything has
a logical connection. Add to that any amount of tricks you do to look like you’re
actually making contact.

How did you initially get involved with Northern Ballet Theatre?

I got a phone call from David (Nixon, Artistic Director) who asked me to work with him on The Three Musketeers. Ballet fights are usually 95% dance and 5% fight and that’s what David didn’t
want. He wanted real fights and if he was going to do The Three Musketeers he wanted the fights to be big and bold. David creates organically, and that’s
how I work. I genuinely walk into a room with no idea where it’s going to go.
I’d never worked with dancers before so this was an exciting new challenge.

*Are there any specific differences with working with dancers rather than actors
and did you approach it any differently?*

I didn’t approach it differently in teaching them to fight, because I treated
it as a fencing class. What I didn’t know was how skilled they were as dancers.
They are very committed, even in the breaks you see them practising, working at
being dancers which is a revelation to me. If you give them something to do and
they can’t do it, they all help each other. So working with them was an eye opener
as they were so keen and enthusiastic. Mixing the fighting with their dance skills
was really exciting as we were able to push the physical boundaries of what they
can do.

What was it like working with the female dancers?

Physically they’re very strong but they look very petite. I had them all hitting,
kicking, scratching, gouging and biting each other within minutes; it was so absurd.
There is an image of ballerinas as being very dainty, pleasant and sweet, but
they absolutely loved it! I did this trick at the end where I pretend to break
a person’s neck using a sound effect. I’d not told anybody about this trick, and
when I did it with one of the dancers they had absolutely no idea what had happened
and their faces were a picture as they all thought I’d actually broken her neck!
Next it dissolved into giggles and I had all these ballerinas breaking each other’s
necks all over the place. It was hilarious!

NBT fight Were there any dancers who had a particular flair for sword fighting?

Patrick, (Howell, Soloist) one of the dancers playing D’Artagnan, had a natural flair for it. Jonathan (Byrne Ollivier, Principal) loves it, as does Kenny (Tindall, Coryphee). Kenny was actually thrilled at the prospect at fighting with the girls! Ashley (Dixon, 3rd Year Corps) had a problem initially as he is left handed but then discovered he could fight
with both. They all threw themselves into it so much, even if they weren’t succeeding
in everything they weren’t giving up, they were prepared to work at it. It was
also interesting to see the people who thought they would be great at it getting
very frustrated with themselves. You give them something, which is just slightly
away from what they know, and for a while they’re in bits because they can’t make
that connection, and when eventually they do it’s marvellous.

What has the experience of working with NBT been like?

It has been unique! Everybody’s been incredibly welcoming, I can genuinely sense
there’s been an extraordinary interest in me every time I’ve been at NBT. People
are constantly coming into rehearsals. Usually you tend to work with the actors
and the director and that’s it but everyone’s been really enthusiastic about this
production. There is a real buzz at NBT about The Three Musketeers.

See The Three Musketeers at Sadler’s Wells from 5 – 10 June

More details/online booking.

Interview by Northern Ballet Theatre

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