The Chess Piece

One game that doesn't end in a stalemate, according to Paul McElwee

Ever watched the Grand Masters and wondered how they do it? What goes on inside their heads in the pursuit of the checkmate?

Well that idea seems to be the basis for The Chess Piece, the latest project from Echo Echo, the north-west’s premier dance company.

Chess hardly seems the best way to explore dance; the two are polar opposites. The ying of the rigid, strategic game of chess and the yang of dance and its freedom of expression, would in theory make strange bedfellows. Yet Echo Echo have managed to meld the two together.

In the auspicious surroundings of Derry’s Guildhall, two teams of dancers battle it out in a performance that is beautifully captivating, intense and at times very funny.

The performance begins with two chess players sitting on a bench in Central Park. In an explosion of yellow and purple the two players (Echo Echo artistic director Steve Batts and Derry artist James King) go from being just two men, to generals at war.

In an extension of the ying and yang theme, the yellow side (representing white) have a shamanic quality, committed to light and love, while in contrast the purple (or black) side represent the dark side, where malevolence and anarchy rule. If this were Star Wars, it's Jedi against Sith.

One could argue that the mind or soul is at stake and the two sides are fighting it out to see who wins. Freud or Jung would have a field day debating the interpretations. But it’s about dance, and dance they do.

While an actual chess game is happening, the interludes between the game are what make the performance. Competition, power and territory are all explored in a series of face-offs where knights, rooks, pawns and queens all perform using an array of talent, movement and differing styles.

Capoeira-style forms, robotic moves that would put Peter Crouch well and truly in his box, ballet and many other styles are put on display to brilliant effect.

Musically, the various tones of the piece are set to music by the company's musical director Ray Curran, an accomplished musician who has played with Duke Special before starting his own band, The Maximals.

The pawns of the set are all represented by children, who do a sterling job. They get to shine in a scene where the two sides try and devise ways to beat their opponent.

There were also plenty of humorous slapstick scenes, with people falling over and getting comically scared, to evoke the approving ghosts of Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and Lloyd.

It doesn't give anything away to say that the 'eternal struggle' between good and evil, explored throughout the performance, comes to an interesting climax.

Two pieces are left. Should one side triumph over another? Will good win over bad or will there be an uneasy peace? It’s a question that tops off an extraordinary piece of theatre.

The Chess Piece has now finished its small run in the Maiden City, but if they take it on the road, I urge everyone to go along and be wholly entertained