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Duellists: Behind the Scenes

About the Duels

medt.gif (2501 bytes)here are more than a dozen fight sequences in Duellists: The Forgotten Champions, performed in eight one-act plays and a prologue. All are based on actual documented duels, and all incorporate the use of historically accurate weapons and fighting techniques. A synposis of these plays, including some commentary from the creators and producers of Duellists, is below.

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Duellists begins with a PROLOGUE in which we are introduced to the world of stage combat.

COUP DE JARNAC (written, choreographed & directed by Joseph Travers) takes place in Paris, 1547. This battle between the nobleman Jarnac and his opponent Chastaigneraye marks the beginning of the personal "duel of honor" as a way of settling disputes (and the end of the use of "trial by combat" in which divine intervention was assumed to determine the victor of a dispute).

WILHELM THE JEW (written by Rod Kinter & James Robinson; choreographed & directed by James Robinson), one of the most crowd-pleasing sequences in Duellists, takes place in the Austrian Alps in 1593. A group of local ruffians attempt to insult a Jew who happens to stop at a roadside inn, with exciting (and devastating) results. It's "pure theatre," says producer Judith Jarosz.

LAGARDE (written & directed by Joseph Travers; choreographed by Joseph Travers & Angela Bonacasa), is one of the more chilling pieces in Duellists. Joe Travers explains: "It's about a psychopath, a man who picked fights with everyone." Set in Rheims, France in 1618, "Lagarde" tells the story of a treacherous but brilliant swordsman who, as Travers puts it, "used the custom of duelling to legally murder people."

THE MUSKETEERS AT PRE-AUX-CLERCS (written & directed by Rod Kinter; choreographed by J. R. Robinson) shows us some familiar characters from history and literature in a new context. In this piece, we see D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis rounding up friends and neighbors to participate in their chivalrous, swashbuckling displays of valor. Kinter likes this piece, he says, because it shows us how duelling was, in the 17th century, a fundamental part of the code of etiquette. "People just went out and did it," he says, with a hint of wonderment in his voice.

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MLLE. MAUPIN (written, choreographed & directed by Ricki G. Ravitts) opens Act II of Duellists. My personal favorite among the plays, this unusual piece features a heroine rather a hero, the beautiful and self-reliant Mlle. Maupin, who defended her honor against three men in a single night in Paris in 1703. Directors Travers and Kinter assure us that Mlle. Maupin really existed.

pirate.jpg (14874 bytes)MARY READ (written by Joseph Travers & Rod Kinter; directed by Joseph Travers; choreographed by Rod Kinter) also features a woman duellist. Set on the pirate ship Adventure somewhere in the Caribbean in 1710, this piece has been significantly revamped since the workshop production of Duellists last spring.

THE DUEL OF THE HANDKERCHIEF (written, directed & choreographed by Rod Kinter) provides the emotional climax of Duellists. Set in Europe in the 1820s, it tells the story of two best friends who have a falling-out over a woman. When their duel by sword proves inconclusive, they decide to switch to pistols, to the unbelieving terror of their friends and associates. Rod Kinter says that this story has been told over and over again, "but it's always essentially the same, like an urban legend." "The Duel of the Handkerchief" has a strong moral aspect, which is why it's so affecting and effective.

THE LAST DUEL OF HONOR FOUGHT IN FRANCE (written & directed by Rod Kinter; choreographed by Joseph Travers) concludes Duellists, with the true story, unearthed by ballet choreographer Mary Carpenter, about a fight between two men in France in 1958. Was it for real, or was it a publicity stunt?

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Copyright 1999 Martin Denton
Please send comments to mddenton@botz.com
Last update: 23 February 1999