'Blood Wedding' incorporates stage combat, Spanish culture and dance

Friday, November 12, 2010
Dalton Riddle as the Bridegroom, left, and Jacob Buckenmyer as Leonardo during their knife battle in the second act of "Blood Wedding" in the Rust Flexible Theater on the River Campus of Southeast Missouri State University. (Laura Simon)

When "Blood Wedding" was first produced in pre-Civil War Spain of 1933, men still rode horses instead of driving cars, and in the theater, the act of murder was assumed rather than portrayed. But in the production put on by Southeast Missouri State University's Department of Theatre and Dance, two students engage in a knife fight to the death.

"It is a tragedy," director Rob Dillon said. "It is a play about the sacrifices of women and really, the sacrifices of people."

"Blood Wedding" tells the story of a young bride, her groom and her forbidden lover, Leonardo. Although he is already married, Leonardo's thought of losing his first love to another man instigates the lovers' escape together on the bride's wedding day.

Dalton Riddle as the Bridegroom, left, and Jacob Buckenmyer as Leonardo during their knife battle in the second act of "Blood Wedding" in the Rust Flexible Theater on the River Campus of Southeast Missouri State University. (Laura Simon)

This flight leads to the on-stage combat between Leonardo and the groom. In the original play, the audience learns of the murder through a conversation between two other characters. Southeast put the action onstage.

Dalton Riddle plays the groom, and Jacob Buckenmyer is Leonardo, the bride's lover. Both are sophomores and neither is a dancer. The fight is in slow motion and similar to dancing because the men react to each other's movements.

Riddle and Buckenmyer have taken Combat 1 and 2 classes to train for stage combat and stage movement, such as hiding stabs and making them look realistic. And although the violence in "Blood Wedding" seems real, Dillon said precautionary measures were taken to ensure safety.

Dalton Riddle as the Bridegroom, left, and Jacob Buckenmyer as Leonardo during their knife battle in the second act of "Blood Wedding" in the Rust Flexible Theater on the River Campus of Southeast Missouri State University. (Laura Simon)

"We took the edge off the knives with a file, but that doesn't mean you can't get hurt," he said. "Fight scenes often get five to six hours practice per minute of performance because it is dangerous."

Dillon said in scenes such as this, students are always taught the safety techniques -- distance, timing and eye contact.

"The victim is actually the one doing all the work," Dillon said. "It's a shared illusion."

Natalie Roberts choreographed the fight. Roberts will earn her bachelor's degree in dance from Southeast in December. The stage combat also provided her with the opportunity to learn more about stage movement and further her training, she said.

Carlos Saura was the first director to add an actual fight scene to the play, but in Southeast's production, "the combat is all original choreography by me," Roberts said. "I'm a dancer, not a fight instructor, so I used tae kwon do to learn different movements and when someone leaves themselves vulnerable."

The three-and-a-half-minute fight scene is in slow motion, an aspect that made the scene more dramatic, but also harder to act out.

"Fight scenes are hard for anyone, but slow motion is really, really difficult. You have to keep the muscles tense, as if they are doing this real time, and then at the same time, having muscle control to move slowly," Roberts said. "You want to keep consistency with the slowness to keep the audience convinced that the fighters aren't doing this in slow motion, but it is actually happening. It should be something to keep the audience holding their breath."

In addition to choreographing a stage fight, Roberts said this is also the first time she had to research a specific culture. Saura added a few dance scenes that Roberts had to choreograph. The four dances in the production are inspired by Spanish culture and dance styles.

"Straight flamenco wouldn't pull together the entire play," Roberts said. "So I specifically looked up dances from the coast of Spain, and Spanish folk dances."

Roberts said another difference from this production and others she's worked with in the past is that the majority of the cast has not taken dance classes yet.

"Not having dance majors for the dance choreography, I wanted to choreograph something simple, yet effective," Roberts said. "Although it's been a challenge working with nondancers, they have really stepped it up and done well."

"Blood Wedding" will continue at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday. There will be a matinee at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $13 and can be bought at the River Campus box office, by phone 651-2265 or 800-293-5949 and online at metrotix.com.

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