Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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He's fought his way to the top - of films


John Lennox, left, acts as a foil for Tony Wolf as he shows Adrian College students how he choreographed the sword-fighting scenes in The Lord of the Rings and other productions.

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ADRIAN - Without Tony Wolf, all the battling peoples in The Lord of the Rings films just might get along.

As fighting styles designer for the trilogy, it was Mr. Wolf who cooked up the combat styles for each culture in the tale's mythology - one for elves, another for orcs - and yesterday he brought his methods to 18 students at Adrian College.

The four-hour workshop in Downs Hall focused on general techniques about performance combat rather than specific fight moves. Visually, it was one-part ballet, one-part stylized sparring.

Speaking in the accent of his native New Zealand, Mr. Wolf, 37, called his approach “pre-style,” meaning it focuses on principles of movement that can be adapted to different fighting styles.

“Rather than accumulating moves, ... it addresses stage combat as a movement art,” he said.

Students spent most of the session engaged in a series of movement exercises that focused on things like balance, extension, and synergy among performers. Later, Mr. Wolf demonstrated - sometimes with swordplay, at other times with fist fights - how the building blocks contribute to a realistic and safe fight sequence.

Mr. Wolf has been doing this kind of stuff professionally for 15 years, and his fight direction and action design have been included in over 180 film, television, and other productions.

But his interest goes back much further to the days of his youth, watching the Batman television series.

“I was staging fights when I was 10 years old,” he said.

Since then, he's developed fight design into a niche, even creating a style he calls Re:Action.

“No one had developed a system,” he said.

Mr. Wolf visited Adrian as part of a national workshop tour for students and professional actors.

He said the basic two rules of staging a fight are making sure it is safe and that it continues telling the story.

Valerie West, a junior theater major, practiced some fencing once for a stage production, but this was her first general exploration of combat performance.

“I basically was expecting one-on-one combat fighting,” she said. “But I think that this is a much better way of doing it.”

Ben Rosebrock, a sophomore interested in acting, was attracted to the workshop by Mr. Wolf's professional success.

“We don't get this opportunity very much,” he said.

Those at the workshop had numerous questions for Mr. Wolf regarding his experiences.

Michael Allen, chairman of the college's theater department, was among them, but his question had little to do with fighting: “Do you have Liv Tyler's phone number?”

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