“Chess as we play it today had perhaps its greatest popularity during the Renaissance, a time when there wasn’t a separation of the arts and sciences. A person could be a famous painter and equally famous as an inventor. Chess was seen as this combination of the two: a testing of scientific thought while also being an aesthetic pursuit,” said Mr. Weeramantry, a FIDE Master and internationally-recognized coach and teacher. “In America, scholastic chess programs are typically promoted for what they might do to help students with test scores. We wanted to remind people that the artistic inspirations chess can motivate are just as valid.”
“Each game of chess is like a new melody which beautifully resolves at the end of a journey,” said Mr. Kouchak in explaining how chess inspires some of his music. “I hope by using a combination of chess, music and ballet we can inspire and inform children of the importance of coordinating together and moving forward in the future together. This performance combines the visual aesthetic, melody and movement to remind us that the game is always greater than the player.”
The Queen’s Journey had its genesis as a ballet performance at the British Museum presented by Mr. Kouchak in November 2015. Sunil’s wife, Carolyn Weeramantry, a musician herself, met Mr. Kouchak while in London with her son, GM Hikaru Nakamura. The two quickly became friends and Carolyn decided she would like to bring the ballet to New York. The ballet is a four-minute composition, so the two began collaborating to create a longer program. When Sunil Weeramantry shared that he was finishing up a writing project that taught chess and history as a blended learning text for students, all the elements started coming together.
The performance was held in a small theater in ArtsWestchester in White Plains, NY. “We quickly realized we needed a larger venue, the interest was so great,” said Mr. Weeramantry. “But we thought we’d start small with the idea that a larger event might be staged when we could bring on some other partners.”
The Queen’s Journey was presented to an overflow crowd of parents and students along with special guests Tom Roach, the Mayor of White Plains; FM Alisa Melekhina, who trained as a ballerina and played chess internationally in her youth and is today an intellectual property attorney; and GM Nakamura who drove overnight from a photoshoot for Red Bull to surprise and support his mother.
After introductions, the show began with a multi-media performance of Jason Kouchak’s “A Life Into…” which features a video with words from the song appearing on a knight’s tour around the chessboard.
Helena Servin-Demarrais, a 7th grade student at Greenwich Academy, then set the mood by reading selections from “Great Moves: Learning Chess Through History” (Weeramantry, Abrams, McLellan; coming soon from Mongoose Press).
Adrianna Aguilar, a ballerina from San Diego, CA who now leads a dance company in New York, performed “Reflections,” Mr. Kouchak’s ballet inspired by the grace and power of the queen
Introducing a new chess inspired composition, “Journey of Joy,” Mr. Kouchak pointed out parallels between music and chess. This was followed by another song composed for the show, “Queen of the Castle,” performed by Mr. Kouchak and Carolyn Weeramantry on violin.
While Carolyn played at the center of a 9’ X 9” chessboard, girls set up the pieces effectively building two castles
Then it was time for chess. The girls quickly consulted between moves with the game ending in time with a second arrangement of “Queen of the Castle.”
“With limited time to play,” Mr. Weeramantry explained, “it was not important to determine a winner but to demonstrate the spirit of co-operation that chess lends itself to. Most people think of chess only as a battle between solitary opponents and many girls, in particular, are not attracted to the sport because of this. We wanted to showcase that, for most people, chess is first and foremost a social activity and there are many ways to incorporate that element into the game.”
The finale came with a reprise of the opening song “A Life Into…” sung by the "chess queens" who had just completed their game
Mr. Kouchak and the NSCF now hope to demonstrate that same spirit of collaboration by sharing the concept with other chess organizations. “We would certainly like to partner with other groups to do larger events in the future,” Mr. Weeramantry confirmed. “If we want to continue to grow chess for young people, it will take engaging as many as possible by tapping into as many different interests as possible. We believe celebrating the aesthetic aspect of chess is important to our culture and we hope that The Queen’s Journey can contribute to the discussion.”
The NSCF specializes in curricular chess instruction as well as training teachers to introduce chess in school programs around the country. For more information, please visit their website: www.nscfchess.org. To learn more about Mr. Kouchak, please visit his website: www.jasonkouchak.com.