Physical Discipline in the Theater: Parkour

Parkour, if you missed “The Office” last week, is a relatively new physical discipline which originated in France, labeled by many of its practitioners as simply the art of getting from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, overcoming the obstacles that may stand in your way.  A lot of America was introduced to the art through the opening chase in the recent Bond film Casino Royale. A good way to become familiar with the art is to watch a video of its originator, David Belle – take a look here: (though, one should be aware, the goal of parkour is NOT necessarily to hurl oneself from absurd heights).

Similar to martial arts in its individual and practical approach, parkour takes many natural movements of the body and encourages them – jumping, running, rolling, landing, balancing, and climbing are all elements, and one of the goals of the practitioner, or “traceur”, is to combine all of these seamlessly. Anyone who wishes to learn a bit more about WHAT parkour is should go to American Parkour and read up, watch videos, and get a glimpse of the community there. (

Balance...essential...for card game....(from "Carmen" photo credit Raymond Gniewek)

Balance...essential...for card game....(from "Carmen" photo credit Raymond Gniewek)

So what does parkour have to do with Synetic and/or Theater? Well, first of all, as Synetic is a movement-theater, and Parkour has a lot to do with movements that are already pretty natural to the human body, it is only reasonable that the two might have movements that overlap. We actually train a number of parkour movements along with our dance, fight, and mime training:

Jumps – the ability to absorb the impact of a jump from height is essential to both Parkour and Synetic. The ability to align the joints and avoid repetitive damaging movements is essential to the performer’s longevity.

Rolls – We do a lot of these – a roll can transfer vertical momentum into horizontal, making it essential for stunt work. No one wants to absorb a crash with their ribs, spine and joints – rather, we learn quiet rolls to transfer that energy into movement, rather than impact.

Balance – Obviously a necessity for dancing, many of Synetic’s sets involve some tricky balancing to traverse, as well

However, beyond the practical application of the skills involved, Parkour, and its training, provides a heightened storytelling element to movement as well. Parkour is considered by many an extreme kind of movement – we don’t encounter people jumping from walls to walkways and balancing on rails in our daily lives too often, or even in sport (perhaps we ought to…playfulness is healthy), and when it’s put to use onstage, it tends to raise the heart rate a bit.

Often, Parkour is compared to martial arts as the “flight” impulse balancing out the “fight” impulse. Fight and flight are both essential elements of most our stories, and so to heighten the emotional impact of a scene, we may not run away, we may leap away, we may not simply duck, we may roll – because the danger we imagine to be onstage is simply so great.

Quite simply, the most useful application of Parkour onstage, outside of a purely expressive aesthetic, is to amplify the extremity of a story’s situation. Like using mime, or reacting to hits in stage combat, the movement can serve to create a dynamic imaginary world around the performer – as well as keep his or her body safe when navigating the very non-imaginary world of a Synetic set and ensemble!

Spidermen (from "Carmen" photo credit Raymond Gniewek)

Hangin out (from "Carmen" photo credit Raymond Gniewek)

But beyond this, there is a certain joyful aesthetic to the flow of natural movement that parkour embraces. While it may seem like hijacking a practical art form for its pure beauty (which it is), there is something to simply incorporating the flow of obstacle maneuvering into the best of our dancing, and the most purely emotional of our movements. This steps beyond the application of parkour as an art of the immediate world and dives into it as an expression of the inner world — and it is the hardest to put into words.

Perhaps it can suffice to say that one can discover grace in all movements.


~ by synetictheater on September 25, 2009.

One Response to “Physical Discipline in the Theater: Parkour”

  1. Nice post, and Parkour is astoundingly beautiful. Movement that rolls with the natural flow of physical expression usually is.

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