Fluorescent tubes and plain white overhead spotlights glinted off the tarnish armour. Throughout the wordless performance the only sounds were the amplified noises of the knights, and some giggling from the audience. Condenser microphones hung from the ceiling. Floor mics picked up their stamping. And mics inside their suits allowed every sound of creaking metal to reverberate around the stage. These warriors wouldn’t sneak inconspicuously into the kitchen for a cookie in the middle of the night. Nor would they have an easy time going through airport security!
With tubby chest plates and one knight’s helmet adorned with a foppish feather that flounced around, the dancers settled into patterns of movement and rhythms, turning themselves into mechanoid drum machines as they performed their increasingly vigorous armoured aerobics.
There’s an amazing level of self control in Chivalry is Dead as the dancers manage their cumbersome movements on stage. At the back of the theatre, there’s also a huge level of control demonstrated by the sound engineer who prevents even the hint of feedback emerging while delaying and looping the metallic sounds and allowing them to swirl round the auditorium and build up to a huge crescendo at the end of the performance.
While donning a suit of plate armour to go into hand to hand battle was left behind in the Middle Ages – though the protection gear worn by bomb disposal teams (Ammunition Technical Officers) still has much in common – the concept of “knights” lives on in modern society. Knighthoods are awarded, various membership organisations (secretive and otherwise) adopt the term as a rank in their hierarchy.
What does a knight in a suit of armour look like when transplanted into today’s frenetic activities? At a practical level chivalrous behaviour associated with knights may now just be an outworking of normal politeness, but a man holding a door open for a woman can also be perceived as sexist. As western society tries to strip away old-fashioned ideas of chauvinism and dump the worst excesses of patriarchy, is chivalry dead? Will the do-gooders willing to blast everything out of their way to make the world a better place cease to exist in video games and action movies?
Or are some of Léon Gautier's Ten Commandments of Chivalry still as relevant as ever in 2015?
- Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
- Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
- Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
- Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.
Chivalry is Dead jumped off the page of the Belfast International Arts Festival programme as the most unusual act in this year’s three week line-up. Without the festival there’s little chance this imaginative work would have be seen in Northern Ireland.
There’s another chance to see it tonight (Thursday 15 October) in the MAC. And lots of other recommendations about Belfast Festival performances and events in a previous post.