“And the other night he came by, and I realized there was this one moment that I just sort of roughly staged, and I said, ‘can you make it funny?’ ” Holdridge said. “And he did. He said, ‘Oh, okay, I can do that. Let’s see what you have.’ ”
Kaleba’s work also crops up in the Folger Theatre’s production of “Henry V,” opening Tuesday. He brought the Battle of Agincourt and the siege of Harfleur to the stage. But, as with “Zorro,” his influence extends beyond the raucous rumbles; it permeates each step and informs every line. Director Robert Richmond asked Kaleba to train the entire cast in movement and sword handling to plunge the performers into a soldierly frame of mind.
“What he wanted was a sort of boot camp for the actors to get this feeling of what it was like and what the weapon could do,” Kaleba said. “Even though in ‘Henry V,’ we’re going very stylized, and our reference points are more dance than history or violence, we’re starting with everybody in the room understanding what it is we’re stylizing.”
His comprehensive approach perhaps comes from the fact that he started out studing acting and became interested in physical performances, as opposed to an athlete who fell into theater, which is the trajectory for many fight directors. Kaleba, 34, began studying fight choreography in 1992 and has worked professionally in the field since 2000.
“To me, this is just dancing with props,” he said. “I don’t think of myself as a martial artist or a boxer or a fencer or a wrestler who adapts their work for the stage. I think of myself as a movement artist. It’s just a body and whether you’re a dancer or an acrobat or an athlete or somebody who makes coffee all day, there’s a physical language that we all use.”
His past acting studies may also explain Kaleba’s respect for the text of a production. He constantly circles around intention and context, and he takes an unusually active role in the rehearsal process.
“He is a storyteller,” said Richmond, who has worked with Kaleba on a number of shows. “He is really about finding what works best to tell the narrative of the story and what the situation is and what the character would need to do to get through that piece of violence. It’s not just about flash.”
Of course, there’s that, too. Anyone who saw “Young Robin Hood” at Round House Theatre last month can attest to Kaleba’s knack for swashbuckling theatrics. But each show demands a singular approach, so the fight director’s process starts with considering rhythm and texture. Is the production supposed to be slick or gritty? Should the action feel smooth or syncopated? He comes up with vague outlines before meeting the actors.