Pam Gleason had long wanted to create a dance centered around chess, a game that had been a key part of her family’s life for about 18 years.
This winter, the Fulton resident did just that, choreographing a chess-themed video for her dance organization’s April show.
Gleason created a routine based on a famous 19th century chess match known as “The Evergreen Game.” She had the dancers, one for each piece of the chess board, reenact the game, complete with color commentary and some added dancing after the game’s end.
“To me personally, it was such a joy to work in those two realms in the chess world and dance world and bring them together,” Gleason said.
Gleason became closely involved in the chess world when her son Wes Cannon was a kindergartner at Lake Harriet Community School about 18 years ago. Cannon’s kindergarten teacher suggested that he take up the game, and he subsequently began competing with the club at the school’s upper campus.
Cannon showed aptitude in the game, according to former Lake Harriet coach Alex Adams, who had the club compete against other schools. By the end of Cannon’s kindergarten year, the team was ranked third and the state and 24th in the country, according to a 2001 Southwest Journal article on the team.
“He doesn’t consistently beat everybody in the club, but he has beaten everybody in our club,” Adams said at the time.
Cannon said that a lot of his childhood was comprised of attending chess tournaments, noting that he won a couple of state events. He became less involved with the game as he moved onto Southwest High School and eventually to the University of Minnesota, but he has returned to it since college, competing in multiple tournaments since graduating.
Gleason has also started to compete, joining Cannon at a tournament in Chicago last summer. She said she started seriously thinking about creating a chess-themed dance after watching the matches there and noticing the idiosyncrasies in how the players moved.
“I decided to actually put that thought into action,” she said.
Gleason said she was looking for an unusual game out of which she could make a dance and that her younger son, Will Cannon, who also plays chess, mentioned “The Evergreen Game.” The game, played in the 1850s, featured one of the players sacrificing several key pieces, including a rook and his queen, to eventually checkmate the other player.
In Gleason’s video, dancers wearing white and black costumes reenact the game, while Adams offers color commentary. Wes Cannon plays the role of the triumphant king.
Gleason said that the dancers for the piece ranged in age from 18 to 80, adding that while many of them were new to chess, some, such as Cannon, were new to dance.
“I think that everyone learned from each other, and that was really fun,” Gleason said.
She said that dance and chess are two activities that can be for people of all ages and added that both utilize the part of the brain that deals with spatial reasoning.
“There are infinite possibilities in dance and infinite possibilities in how one can play a game of chess,” Gleason said.
Gleason’s video was part of a show called “Games People Play” put on by MotionArt, the dance organization she co-directs with Diane Moncrieff. She said she hoped the show would move people and that audience members would be able to find some humor in it.
MotionArt offers modern dance classes for people of all age ranges and abilities at locations around Minneapolis. Visit motionartmn.org to learn more about the organization.