Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Class teaches lightsaber moves

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Tommy Newbury (left), 7, faces off against Sebastian Gill, 11, during a light saber duel at Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo on Thursday. The two students are part of a light saber choreography class, which teaches the proper technique for handling the sci-fi weapon.
Mortal enemies Santiago Gomez-Acebo and Marco Garranzo, stood at the ready position, light sabers shining. ‘‘En garde,” came a voice from the shadows, and with that, the two sliced and cut, dodged and ducked, weapons clattering all the while.

No, this isn’t the scene from the next ‘‘Star Wars” movie. It’s the scene every Thursday at Adventure Theatre’s lightsaber choreography class.

Gomez-Acebo, Garranzo and 20 other kids, ages 7 to 11, meet once a week at Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo for the theater’s first Star Wars-themed class. The workshop is the brainchild of Brad Waller, who has choreographed fights for operas and plays for nearly two decades.

For the students involved, the class is an opportunity for their favorite movies to come to life.

‘‘It’s really interesting to learn all the moves,” said Gomez-Acebo of Bethesda. ‘‘And you get to fight but know you’re not going to get hurt.”

During each class, Waller teaches the students a variety of moves, and his young Padawans — Jedi apprentices — follow eagerly. If Waller tells them to sit, they sit. If he tells them to stand and face their opponent, they jump at the opportunity. After all, it’s part of the Jedi way.

‘‘The force is in your heart, not your sword,” Waller yells over the sound of smashing plastic. ‘‘Use your heart young Padawans.”

Students use their own lightsaber, either brought from home or provided by Adventure Theatre. Some students have trouble holding the weapon, their arms quivering under its weight while Waller explains the next point.

But for the Jedi trainees, there’s nowhere else they want to be.

‘‘I thought it was something I should do, if I wanted to be a true Star Wars fan,” said Sebastian Gill, 11, of Washington. ‘‘I really wanted to learn the fights from the movies.”

During class Thursday, Waller had the students pick out a Padawan name. There were four Luke Skywalkers and three Yodas, while others prided themselves on their originality. Gomez-Acebo chose Darth Nihilus, a character who isn’t in any of the Star Wars movies, but makes an appearance in George Lucas’ Star Wars books.

Sasha Sherman, a 7-year-old from Cabin John, chose Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi master. While fighting, Sherman, like many of the other students, had to use two hands to hold up the lightsaber.

‘‘I get to be a Jedi,” he said. ‘‘That’s cool.”

For Sherman’s father, Scott, the class goes beyond science fiction.

‘‘I mean he came home last week just so excited,” the elder Sherman said. ‘‘All boys his age love to use swords, but this teaches them to have control and discipline while doing it.”

In addition to control, Waller also teaches the students a lesson they otherwise wouldn’t get for years: geometry.

While showing a new move, Waller tells the students the angle to hold the sword, and the angle to move away to avoid a hit. The Padawans worked along an axis, and learned the difference between 180-degree angles and 45-degree ones, all with lightsaber in hand.

‘‘I try to make teaching fun,” Waller said. ‘‘They don’t realize they’re reinforcing life lessons.”

At the end of class, all 22 students converged in the center of the room, light sabers drawn and glowing.

‘‘The force is strong, young Padawans,” Waller said as the students raised their weapons high.

It’s safe to say that Montgomery County is in good hands if the Evil Empire ever tries to attack.