Thursday, May 15, 2008

Get a Grip

Performed by Trace elements

Arts House - North Melbourne Town Hall
May 6, 2008

In darkness, an athlete slowly rolls his heavily taped wrists, warming up, preparing. As the light gradually shifts, more black-clad men appear, stealthily moving through a metal scaffold like urban warriors. The energy builds as the men test themselves against their surroundings, now balancing on a handrail, now leaping over a waist-high cube. A climax is reached as the six performers hurl themselves in sequence over two large cubes spaced a metre apart, travelling at great speed and yet landing with ease.

These lithe and muscular men are members of Trace elements, local practitioners of parkour and free running, recently developed artforms that require incredible strength and agility. With directorial assistance from Natalie Cursio, the group have developed GET A GRIP, a performance which also features filmed sequences of their amazing feats on, over and around well-known Melbourne city landscapes.

Created in a documentary style, the film demonstrates how practising parkour allows one to travel quickly through space, running, jumping and climbing obstacles rather than simply following the footpath. The men move so fluidly through the air and along the ground they could almost be wild animals, fleeing predators or chasing prey.

The live element, however, is very human, including precarious balances, acrobatic flips, breathtaking leaps and tricks on the purpose-built set. Most of the stunts are performed solo, yet some of the most thrilling moments involve synchronised movement, particularly when the entire cast leaps simultaneously onto and over the scaffold.

The whole production is tightly edited and flows surprisingly well between film and live performance. Unfortunately the seating (or lack thereof) is a problem, with no chairs provided for the audience at all.

The closing image of the company climbing over the arch of the pedestrian bridge at Southbank as pedestrians pass underneath is a brilliant demonstration of how parkour and free running can allow us to look at our landscape in new and liberating ways.

(Originally published in The Age newspaper)

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