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Where Choreography's Still in Flower

November 08, 1987|CHARLES SOLOMON

Most performers would panic if an audience greeted their entrances with a chorus of boos and hisses. Victor De Lara, who portrays the villainous Green Knight at Medieval Times, enjoys it.

Medieval Times is the elaborate dinner theater in Buena Park that attempts to re-create the Middle Ages by serving up an evening full of horsemanship, jousting and swordplay along with ribs and Cornish game hens (see story, Page 102).

De Lara said his role enables him to get out all his aggressions, which isn't hard to believe: At one point in the show, he defeats three other knights in hand-to-hand combat.

De Lara is more than just a member of the cast. In addition to his nightly performances, he trains the other knights, trains the horses and choreographs the fights and equestrian stunts. A native of Andalusia, Spain, the 29-year-old actor-athlete recently discussed his work, with the help of an interpreter.

Despite the partial language barrier, De Lara spoke with obvious enthusiasm, especially when discussing horses, which are apparently as difficult to cast as actors.

"Not all horses have a temperment suited to this kind of show," he said. "Some can't tolerate the lights and the music and the presence of so many screaming people. It may take anywhere from three to six months to prepare a horse for the tournament."

De Lara said he learned the fine points of equestrian training in the Spanish army, serving as a captain's aide in the field artillery, responsible for the horses that pulled cannons over the rocky terrain of the Spanish Pyrenees.

For Medieval Times, De Lara prepares the horses for the less onerous exercises of dressage--a kind of stylized equestrian ballet. Despite the distraction of the audience, the horses must gallop in a perfectly straight line while their riders catch rings on their lances and fight each other with swords.

De Lara trains nine knights and three apprentices. Working as a knight sounds like the fulfillment of every boy's dreams of adventure, but he cautioned that the job requires exceptional strength, agility and coordination. In addition to the equestrian stunts, the knights must fight on foot with swords and maces.

Like a ballet or a martial arts kata , each duel is really a series of variations on a few basic movements. The patterns in each series must be memorized in exact order so that the Red Knight parries when the Green Knight thrusts, and vice versa.

Although the motions look spontaneous, nothing is left to chance. Even with daily rehearsals, some knights have sustained injuries ranging from sprains and bruises to broken legs and collarbones.

"We make it look like there are more fight sequences than there are by having the knights change colors or do the fights in a different order," De Lara said. "The same knights don't do the same fights every week, but we don't change the fights themselves. It takes too long to develop and learn them to change them on a regular basis."

Many of the employees at Medieval Times are history buffs who belong to such groups as the Society for Creative Anachronism, but De Lara has little interest in the past. He enjoys the action and excitement of his job and the chance to work with the splendid Andalusian and Arabian horses. Although he admits he would like to try doing stunt work for films, he has no interest in pursuing a Hollywood career.

"I just want to keep working in the show and training these beautiful horses," he said with a grin. "Someday I'd like to have four or five of my own--and a beautiful ranch to train them on."

Medieval Times is at 7662 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. Phone: (714) 521-4740. Dinner and performances Monday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 6 and 9 p.m.

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