Feature: Where parkour meets dance...

Monday 8 December 2014 by Lara Hayward

Parkour Dance Company 'Risk of Falling'

Although more usually classified as sport than an art form, the similarities between parkour (free running) and dance are obvious. Led by artistic director Jade Shaw, the Parkour Dance Company is the first UK based group to fuse the ethos and technique of parkour with the medium of dance. We sent Lara Hayward along to a sharing of their latest work Danger: Risk of Falling

I went along to Parkour Dance Company’s informal sharing at Greenwich Dance in September, my first and nicely illuminating experience of the collaborative process in which choreographers seek audience feedback to inform their works in progress.

On arrival we were greeted by a hard-hat clad ‘foreman’ who took us through in small groups to ensure things were kept ‘safe’. Concerned with the loudness of my coat (orange and leopard print together does, admittedly, look rather noisy) I was ushered to put it under the seat and out of the way.

With our backs to the actual stage, the audience faced outwards to the set which was situated on the main hall floor, a kind of giant 80’s executive toy made up of bare scaffolding and platforms. It looked neat, boxy, and asymmetric all at once.

Six dancers walk on and climb slowly up onto the platforms which looked like spinning plates on top of poles. Although these weren’t spinning, they were still high and narrow enough to look precarious. All six were encased in full bubble wrap suits – fragile and protected at the same time.

As the music starts, the dancers consider their situation and slowly start to pop the bubbles. slowly shaking off nerves and shedding their fears, increasing their risk and sense of excitement. The popping was effective as a metaphor and it was only the ripping off of the suits that felt a little contrived. Jade admitted afterwards they had tried different methods of removing themselves from their plastic protective gear.

What follows is a great combination of Parkour and Dance. Half the performers have Parkour backgrounds and half are trained dancers and both have had to learn skills not usually employed. Dancer Lizzy Chong explained afterwards that learning the Parkour ‘steps’ was challenging but had meant she was propelled out of her previous comfort zone and had to place a greater degree of trust in her partner, particularly in the duet sequences.

These duet sequences were the highlight for me. Like pas de deux with added danger, traditional sequences had been extended to incorporate somersaults and catches from height, the set being used as a springboard or launchpad each time- sense of wonder and risk heightened and also gave a feel for what ‘falling’ in love is like. For me, the duets felt very intimate, and therefore moving, largely because of the level of trust that was required between the pairs dancing together. The audience got a real sense of closeness from these sequences and Jade told us afterwards that this choreography had received positive feedback from previous viewers.

Parkour Dance also did amazing things with the space. As the six moved in, around, under and through the cage-like set, space seemed to shift within it. At times, when all six were in the same compartment, the air looked claustrophobic and limited. The effect of the action only happening in one compartment meant the remaining space felt bigger and very open. Similarly when all six were in full flow, leaping, flying and reverberating of the frames the set space seemed infinite. Simple but clever.

I am in awe of Parkour. The thrill factor and the seemingly contradictory sense of calm that seems to pervade those who perform it means I always enjoy it. I love dance for it’s beautiful endless possibilities. Prior to seeing this I did wonder how they would make Parkourdance feel different to the two components that they have put together, but Jade has done just that. Parkour Dance looks and feels like its own discipline and if this preliminary view was anything go by, the only thing they are at risk of is flying high.


Lara Hayward is a freelance dance, sport and travel writer. Find her on Twitter @auspicouspixie

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