Expats don’t usually opt for a train ride over a flight. So when we heard that a bunch of ‘Performance Parkour’ artistes from the UK were in town for an upcoming dance-style production, the last thing we expected to hear was that they had obsessively been riding trains from Chennai and Namakkal, all the way to Ooty.
It’s all R&D for the new project, according to Alister O’Loughlin of Urban Playground, the group behind the show. “We’ve taken every single class of compartment over the last two weeks, and it’s all part of our research to create a desi version of our production, Steam,” he says.
Parkour is a training discipline using movement that was developed from military obstacle course training. This performance will have people moving their entire bodies through spaces as small as 30 cm — the size of some of the skeletal cavities of the train! Combine all of that with dance forms like hip hop and a little bit of theatrical pizazz, you get Performance Parkour.
Steam, which was created last year, has the performers relive the imagined life of a steam locomotive through scenes inspired by James Bond flicks and Wild West gun fights. “But of course this has nothing to do with India,” adds Alister.
Given that the railways play a significant role in the way people commute, they have chosen to collaborate with the Arts Council England and the British Council to recreate the production with ‘Indian-inspired’ scenes. “The idea is to work with people who grew up in towns that are connected by these trains. And also to create new scenes that replace the scenes in our show, so that we create an Indian version of this performance, with stories which connect to the audiences here,” he explains.
Along the way, they have been teaching the art of Parkour, in the most unexpected of places. Varsha Venugopal of the Parkour Circle, Chennai, that has been facilitating the process, tells us, “They’ve covered all kinds of groups from special kids at Vidya Sagar to theatre actors to dancers to a Dalit community in Namakkal.” Incidentally, the most memorable workshop was the latter where a 95-year-old man was one of the students, she recalls.
Once the funding for the project comes though, Urban Playground plans to return to Chennai in 2017 to put it together, introduce home grown Parkour talents in the mix and travel with the show around the State.
What is Parkour?
Parkour is a discipline using movement developed from military obstacle course training. It includes climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, rolling and quadrupel movement
A practitioner of Parkour is often called a traceur, with the feminine form being traceuse
The Yamakasi were the original group of Parkour practitioners from Lisses, France. The nine founding members were David Belle, Sébastien Foucan, Châu Belle Dinh, Williams Belle, Yann Hnautra, Laurent Piemontesi, Guylain N’Guba Boyeke, Malik Diouf, and Charles Perriére
Malik Talks Physique
One of the founders of the Parkour movement, Malik Diouf, was also in the city as a part of the workshops. The Frenchman, who was part of the original group that popularised Parkour, which was known in the early 90s as the Yamakasi, told us this was his first time in India. “And so far, travelling all over Tamil Nadu, I’ve tried every kind of biryani I could get my hands on,” he laughs. We asked Malik what question he gets asked the most while travelling the world, performing Parkour in front varied audiences and teaching the art. He responded with a smile, “People usually ask me how old I am, because after reading about me as one of the ‘founders’ on the Wiki page, they don’t believe it’s me!” And shaking hands with the super fit athlete, we don’t need to wonder why. “I’m going to be 40 this year, but most people think I’m 26.”