Queen’s gambit: Chess Olympiad acquires some dance moves in Tamil Nadu

HAVING showcased the state’s Dravidian heritage in the impressive inaugural ceremony for the 44th Chess Olympiad on Thursday, the Tamil Nadu government has done one better. Chief Minister M K Stalin has uploaded a ‘Chess Dance’ video online where the black queen triumphs over the white in a message that is as much political as about the game.

The 3.48-minute dance video, titled Check Mate, is the brainchild of Pudukottai District Collector Kavitha Ramu, who is a trained dancer herself.

Speaking to The Sunday Express, Ramu, who designed and choreographed the dance, said for her, the project was about colour, gender and power, besides being a tribute to the game that has made Chennai its home in the country.

With the DMK government rolling out the red carpet for the event, Ramu said: “I intended it to be a Chess Dance, with classical, folk and martial arts elements, to make it vibrant and colourful.”

While she held the auditions in Pudukottai, the dance was shot in Chennai. “As I couldn’t join the dancers in Chennai owing to work commitments, the director, Vijey Raj, sent me video clips and photographs from the shoot.” Praising his meticulous commitment to the project, she says she wanted to make sure that the dance stuck strictly to chess moves.

Among the critical elements was getting the music right, and it was composed by Narendra Kumar Lakshmipathy.

Pudukottai District Collector Kavitha Ramu

Ramu said given the concept, the project was conceived around the triumph of the black queen despite the white having the first-mover advantage.

The black queen in the dance is portrayed by Priyadarshini Rajendran, a Bharatanatyam dancer from Pudukottai, who works in the IT industry in Bengaluru, and plays chess. Laughing that she always prefers black, Rajendran says: “Some of us feel black has a better chance, maybe a counter-intuition.”

What makes the finesse of the final video even more special is the fact that the team did only two days of rehearsals, followed by a shoot that lasted 24 hours, from 6 am one day, to the next morning.

The creative director, Raj, who has worked as co-director in some Tamil films, says they initially conceived the dance as a music video. “But the plan changed to a visual story about the game, with more specific characters and black as a metaphor. It was an immense challenge to tell the entire story in a few minutes. Many of the artistes had never been before a camera.”

The dance video is the brainchild of Pudukottai Collector Kavitha Ramu

According to Raju, the creative liberty Ramu gave helped a great extent in projecting a “compelling narrative”.

Rajendran says they were fully prepared by the time they went in for the shoot. “We were all briefed on the full story, from beginning to end. As the black queen, I had the maximum movements. As a Bharatanatyam dancer, I thought I would use those steps, but it was not intended that way. It was choreographed so that the focus was on the dynamics of collective body movement.”

So while she moved one square at a time, like the queen on a chess board, she was surrounded by faces painted as per the Tamil traditional art form in which humans dress up as horses.

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Suram Sahana, who has previously collaborated with Ramu in numerous dance shows, played the white queen.

The white king was Srinivas, a classical dancer. Manikantan, a freestyle dancer, was the black king. Poikkaal kudhirai artistes Muthukuran, Deepan, Baskar and Cheran, Manigandan, Karthigeyan, Manojkumar, Prathapan, Karthick, Lakshmanan, Divakar, Priyadarshan, Nishanthi, Oorvasi, Rithika Jayalakshmi, Narmatha, Krupavathi, Durga and Soundarya, were also part of the video.

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