Physical Ballet

Big Dance 2010
English National Ballet presents Physical Ballet
Saturday 17 & Sunday 18 July 2010
Report by Victoria Hill

In the tradition of English National Ballet, Company Soloist and Master, Daniel Jones, has employed some of the best talent around in his Physical Ballet and has created an exciting and accessible artistic platform. As part of Big Dance 2010 Physical Ballet was a weekend of physical training and choreographic exploration exploring the unlikely coupling of ballet and parkour. The workshops were led by Jones and Parkour Generations’ Francois ‘Forrest’ Mahop; leaders in their field who met three years ago and found remarkable similarities in each others’ practices.

Founded in the 1980’s in France, the idea of parkour was to travel across the urban terrain as gracefully, efficiently and dynamically as possible using only your body. Parkour Generations founding member and practitioner (or traceur) Forrest, who is introducing the art form to fifteen schools a week in Britain, cuts a business-like figure as he explains: “kids are seeing people running off buildings on the internet and want to take part because they think it’s cool, but behind this, there is a real discipline, a real structure”. Often confused with free running which aims to please aesthetically, parkour is not about adrenaline rushes and taking risks. Instead it is about mastering movement and training the body to reach its full potential – this is where ballet enlists itself to the cause.

Daniel Jones could not have chosen a more poignant vehicle with which to create his new dance format. Approached by the education department at English National Ballet, their longest serving ballet dancer said: “I agreed to be involved in Big Dance as long as I could do something that has never been done before”. Certainly Forrest has never worked with dance in this way, claiming: “I’ve worked with dance in the past, but never in creating a new concept”. Thirty five year old participant Thansy said of Forrest’s Physical Flow Workshop “it was really challenging and I’ve discovered a new muscle I never knew I had!”

Later, Forrest showed me the diving monkey move that Thansy was referring to, a worm-like movement that works on the principals of strength and force. The participants also used the barre in creating movement, crouching and lifting themselves across this now-urban piece of furniture. The barre is typically a partner to the ballet dancer – to be handled lightly, but there were no such qualms as the participants saddled their whole bodies over and under, gripping with an inner control.

Them and Us was a workshop that took place after a less than traditional ballet class led by Jones in the afternoon, where full body stretches were mixed in with ‘tendus’ and ‘ronde de jambes’. The participants were split into two groups and stationed either side of the barre, one group creating sixteen counts of classical movement, the other group creating movement strewn with parkour. The barre represented a mid point where the two art forms merged. When live and studio guitarist and songwriter Murray Gould, a friend of Jones, offered a serene guitar chorus, the fractured scene-scape was reminiscent of a bustling art fair. The choreographic fusing was simply stunning.

Seventeen year old participant Sheriya compared the merger to capoeira which combines elements of martial arts and dance. However, with this ‘Physical Dance’, the implications of collaboration go much deeper than aesthetics. Jones explained that “people believe pointing your feet in ballet is purely to look good. However, the point can help in jumping higher”. This could in turn aid ‘traceurs’ if they incorporated the gesture into their jumps. Forrest also commented that he feels ‘rhythm’ when he prepares for a jump, similar to when ballerinas take to the stage and count beats in the music. The possibilities for the two art forms to progress seem endless if each receives shifts and revisits the others’ work and teaching.

Physical Ballet as a concept is really exciting and it was a privilege to witness two leading individuals bring together two of the most physically challenging art forms that exist today. Sally Christopher, English National Ballet’s Big Dance Project Coordinator said of the quiet, exploratory activities of the weekend that”_ this is just the beginnings of something quite special”._ After watching Shall We Jamm – a video that was created by Forrest and Jones based on the same concept, for YouTube, I could not agree more (see video below). The two art forms seem to blend exceptionally well and the participants this weekend may just have taken part in something which has the potential to cause quite a stir in the future.

English National Ballet

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