2PK: An introduction to performance parkour by Alister O’Loughlin

The Urban Playground’s Alister O’Loughlin delves in to the art of performance-parkour ahead of STEAM – Local Line this June in Sheerness…

The Urban Playground is the original performance-parkour (or 2PK) company. We coined the term 2PK to describe the performance language of parkour. In 2PK parkour becomes a way to tell a story or express how you feel. It builds upon the fundamental movement language of authentic French free-running, and combines it with elements of contemporary and urban dance, physical theatre and slapstick comedy. If parkour is like Bruce Lee – a pure martial artist who moves like water and surpasses any form, then 2PK is like Jackie Chan. Doing all of that, but making a joke out of it at the same time.

Often we see people show Parkour in a way that says ‘Not everyone can do this’ but we’re the opposite. We want to say that everyone can do this and we’d love for them to have a go… I trained as an actor and though I started off concentrating on voice and text I increasingly worked as a physical theatre performer, not least because for the last twenty years I’ve worked in partnership with Miranda Henderson, the UPG Team’s director and a professional dance artist. In 2003 we watched the seminal Jump London documentary together and the next day went out to try free-running for ourselves. The idea of moving in and on and through architecture, with no rules except to be safe, efficient and fluid really appealed to us and it became a daily practice. Since we were already working as a theatre company we quickly had to make a choice – either we use it for a show or it has to go. So in 2004 we began the work on what would become the Urban Playground project. As far as the public was concerned, our first performance came in 2006 and this was seen by Malik Diouf, one of the co-creators of Parkour. Almost immediately we began working together with Malik and he’s been a core member of the UPG Team ever since.

Over the last ten years we’ve taken 2PK across five continents and its been a real pleasure for us to see other companies and communities appearing who are discovering 2PK for themselves. The thing we love most about 2PK is that is really for everyone. There is no right or wrong way to do it, you don’t have to be a super athlete to give it a go. Its simply a way of thinking about how you move and using that movement to say something. For people who like dance, and for those who are not dancers, its a way of feeling like a dancer. For people like me who grew up climbing in trees and on walls and wanting to be spiderman, its a way of getting back to that. For people who want to get fitter and stronger and more flexible but don’t necessarily enjoy regular sport or exercise, its the BEST way to move. And it should always, always be fun.

Our current performance STEAM comes out of our love of movies, and it involves a group of urban explorers who discover the skeletal remains of a steam locomotive engine. They bring the train back to life with scenes inspired by the silent movies of Buster Keaton, the Wild West chases we grew up watching, James Bond, World War 1 and the dark future of inner city commuting. All of them are great fun and involve us jumping, climbing, swinging, rolling and bouncing around together to an awesome soundtrack by Chris Umney. We’re also really excited to have a new performer in the company – Mélissa Humler – who comes from a circus background and is a hand stand expert. She’s a great balance to Sasha Alexander, our Russian break dancer who also has some awesome skills to teach.

On this current Local Line tour we’re giving people the chance to be in the show with us, working with locally based young people to create new scenes for the show which they will perform alongside our company.

We’ll also follow every show with an open workshop for anyone aged 12 or above to have a go at what we do. The oldest participant we’ve worked with was 95 so there’s no excuses!