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

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AFTER showcasing the state’s Dravidian heritage at the stunning opening ceremony of the 44th Chess Olympiad on Thursday, the Tamil Nadu government has done it even better. Chief Minister MK Stalin has uploaded online a “chess dance” video of the black queen triumphing over the white in a message as political as the game.

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

Speaking to The Sunday Express, Ramu, who designed and choreographed the dance, told her the project is about colour, gender and power, as well as paying homage to the game that has made Chennai his home in the country .

As the DMK government rolled out the red carpet for the event, Ramu said, “I wanted it to be a chess dance, with classical, folk and martial arts elements to make it lively and colorful.”

While she held the auditions in Pudukottai, the dance was filmed in Chennai. “As I was unable to join the dancers in Chennai for professional reasons, director Vijey Raj sent me video clips and photos from the filming.” She commends his meticulous commitment to the project and says she wanted to make sure the dance was rigorous holds chess moves.

One of the crucial elements was the right music composed by Narendra Kumar Lakshmipathy.

Pudukottai District Collector Kavitha Ramu

Ramu said that given the concept, the project was designed around the triumph of the black queen, even though the white one has the preferential advantage.

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

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

Creative director Raj, who has worked as a co-director on a number of Tamil films, says they originally 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 whole story in a few minutes. Many of the artists have never been in front of a camera.”

The dance video is the brainchild of Pudukottai collector Kavitha Ramu

According to Raju, the creative freedom Ramu allowed went a long way in projecting a “compelling narrative.”

Rajendran says that by the time they went to the shoot, they were fully prepared. “We were all briefed on the whole story, from start to finish. As a black queen, I had the maximum moves. As a Bharatanatyam dancer, I thought I would use these steps, but it wasn’t intended that way. It was choreographed to focus on the dynamics of collective body movement.”

As she moved like the queen from square to square on a chessboard, she was surrounded by faces painted in the traditional Tamil art form of people dressing 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 artists 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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