Checkmate. Ballet, music and chess

Checkmate. Ballet, music and chess

Oct 5, 2011, 6:32 AM |

, ballet play referent of the contemporary Britain ballet, was created in 1937 by the choreograph Ninette de Valois (1898-2001). And it’s based on the idea of the composer Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975).

The premiere was in Théatre des Champs-Elysées the 1st June 1937, as another act of the Universal Exhibition celebrated in Paris. The play was represented by the company Ballet Vic-Wells. The original sets were lost in 1940 during the German invasion to Holland, were the Ballet Vic-Wells was on tour.

On the left, Ninette de Valois when was Young. On the right, Arthur Bliss showing the pieces
movement to Ninette de Valois.

The dramatic quality of Checkmate is accompanied by the music force of the Bliss play. Arthur Bliss was a music and also very keen on chess. We must remember that he was who did the introduction to the Chess Congres of Hastings in 1962.

(Checkmate performance at Sadlers Wells Theater, London, 1982).

Checkmate, 2007. By the Royal Ballet, with Alexandra Ansanelli (Red Queen), Zenaida Yanowsky
(blak Queen) and Alastair Marriott (red King).

The ballet begins with two characters the love and the death, playing a game of chess. The love plays and the death answers him. The love gets up but finally it is knocked down. Checkmate. Afterwards it happen and attack of the black queen against de red king that is defended by the red knight. Finally the black queen succeeds, but she doubts about to finish with the life of the king. The king, surrounded for the enemy pawns is collapsed. Checkmate another time.

Checkmte performance in 1947 by Sadlers Wells

You can see another choreography versión of Checkmate, d’Erin Mayo,by Austin metamorphosis dance ensemble, this time with Mozart music.

I did not find in any database an Arthur’s Bliss’ game, but I found some games of another important music of that time, Sergei Prokofiew, played in Paris against Emanuel Lasker in a simultaneous, five years before the premiere of Checkmate in Champs-Elysées.

    Picture by Ugo Dossi that represents the game between Emanuel Lasker and Sergei Prokofiew.

Prokofiev had already played against other chessmasters as Alekhine, Tartakower or his friend Capablanca (who won in a simultaneous in Saint Petersburg in 1914). 

During a public match in Moscow, Prokofiev also was confronted to opponents musicians, the composer Maurice Ravel and the violinist David Oistrach. 

    Sergei Prokofiev, musician and chessplayer