Living On The Edge
nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
August 16, 2010
Parkour is a relatively new form of movement. If I attempted to define it in my own words I would likely spark furious debate. So I'll leave it to its practitioners: parkour, defined by the organization American Parkour, "is the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one's path by adapting one's movements to the environment." While that's a rather dry statement for something that is so riveting to behold, the phrase "discipline of training to overcome" is essential to its understanding. As Living on the Edge exemplifies, parkour is an art of discovery.
You may have already come across parkour in action (perhaps on YouTube.) First developed in France, there are now tens of thousands of American devotees honing their skills in parks, on rooftops, and sometimes under the BQE. But if hanging out under highways is not your thing, this year's FringeNYC provides a unique opportunity to witness it on stage performed by the Brooklyn-based troupe Bullettrun.
Presented in rapidly flowing scenes, the nine cast members soar, tumble, ascend, and fall. They flip forwards and backwards on multiple axes. And they do some fantastically choreographed samurai fights. Their momentum and torque is as much from the floor as it is from the two-story scaffolding and large wood blocks that make up the set. But this is not gymnastics or acrobatics. Bullettrun is practicing movement that's not about precise balance. On the contrary, the art of their movement is in the search for balance.
The cast toys with gravity, they tease it, they capitulate to it—they use it as a tool of their trade. When they teeter or stumble or fall they take ironic pleasure in the ways it distorts their bodies. Choreographer Nadia Lesy and the cast, all credited as co-choreographers, understand the thrill of seeing a body off-balance, fighting gravity, grasping for the brief escape from that inescapable, invisible force.
Elemental to the attitude and culture of parkour is a strong urban signature. The title of the show Living on the Edge signifies that the cast is representing people who aren't doing back flips over a dumpster for the exercise. They're people who are attempting to transform the numbing, industrial sprawl around them into an energized field of kinesthetic freedom.
For a show lasting only 30 minutes it's profoundly fulfilling. Throughout the piece there are moments between scenes when the lights reveal for two or three seconds the cast in haunting tableaux vivant. It's a devise used to perfection. In their stillness we see all the angst and hope that propels them. And we begin to understand that it is through movement they find meaning in a world of blockades and invisible forces.