Hyattsville’s Fight Choreographer

Folger Theatre promotional image for "Henry V."

Folger Theatre promotional image for “Henry V.”

A Hyattsville company teaches actors how to fight.

Tooth and Claw Combat Arts LLC, which is based in the Historic District, specializes in fight direction and stunt coordination, including training actors, choreographing fight scenes and leading workshops. (Their motto: “Theatre is a contact sport.”)

Casey Kaleba, one of two instructors, was recently profiled in the Washington Post for his work in the Folger Theatre’s production of “Henry V.”

His comprehensive approach perhaps comes from the fact that he started out studying acting and became interested in physical performances, as opposed to an athlete who fell into theater, which is the trajectory for many fight directors. Kaleba, 34, began studying fight choreography in 1992 and has worked professionally in the field since 2000.

“To me, this is just dancing with props,” he said. “I don’t think of myself as a martial artist or a boxer or a fencer or a wrestler who adapts their work for the stage. I think of myself as a movement artist. It’s just a body and whether you’re a dancer or an acrobat or an athlete or somebody who makes coffee all day, there’s a physical language that we all use.”

Kaleba, a member of the Society of American Fight Directors, described his method in a recent interview with the Maryland Theatre Guide:

Years ago I worked out what I thought was a brilliant fight for a Romeo and Juliet, and brought it in to the actors.  Our Tybalt picked up his sword with his left hand and my heart just sank – until then it had never occurred to me that I’d actually be choreographing for people who weren’t my build, my flexibility, my mood, my interests, my skills.  It was a good lesson early on, and since then I tend not to build anything until I’ve had a chance to be in the room with the actors.

I do come in with a rhythm and a texture, usually.  This fight feels rhumba quick, or legato, or jagged and full of distortion, and maybe it feels like chunky peanut butter or silk.  They’re abstract ideas, but they also help me tell actors and designers where I think things are going.

If you’d like to see a sample of his work, you can see him attacking another man with a battle axe here.

h/t Shani Warner

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