The Next Level

Parkour practitioners storm St Anne's Square. Watch a video below with Alister O’Loughlin of Prodigal Theatre


Parkour is a sport requiring grace, balance and a willingness to fling yourself into empty air like so many acrobatic lemmings. The practitioners at St Anne's Square, drawn from Prodigal Theatre and with two from Gravity Style (the creators of the urban sport) and performing under the name Urban Playground, dangle, spin and jump across their custom-built gym in a perfectly choreographed routine.

And while it’s not quite the death-defying, wall-running parkour of the movies, a mis-step could clearly result in someone getting badly hurt.

Watching it, however, is simply a ridiculous amount of fun. The music is turned up loud enough that the bass thrums against your ribcage, and there is always someone in motion. The audience sit on the still-pristine stones in St Anne’s Square and watch wide-eyed. The performance skips along so quickly that the applause lags behind, performers already in motion by the time people realise that was their opportunity to clap.

Alister O’Loughlin of Prodigal Theatre emphasizes the amount of practice it takes to get to the point these performers are at. ‘We practice in theatrical sets, we practice in rural environments like forests and woods, we practice on the street and we also practice in purpose designed parkour training sites - live, as we call it.’

You can’t just take a run at a wall and hope for the best, however. Despite Belfast being a 'good city for parkour' none of the Urban Playground performers get to take to the streets, or rooftops, of Belfast this time. ‘We won’t risk ourselves before a performance,’ Alister explains.

They are also busy with workshops they have been running in St Anne’s Square from August 11. The participants, ranging from teenagers to adults, were shown the basics of parkour on the theatrical set and then designed their own routine. The three groups perform their micro-choreography before Urban Playground take to the stage.

The ‘micro-choreographies’ are more tentative than the polished routines of the professionals. The youngsters don’t quite have the confidence to throw themselves at full-pelt around the stage. Despite that, however, the choreography obviously has promise and there are moments when it all clicks together.

‘Performance parkour means that we break a few rules to make sure it’s a great show,’ O’Loughlin explains. ‘But it’s not about showing off what we can do, it’s about you thinking what you can do.’

It seems to have worked. After the performance the square outside the University of Ulster is full of teenagers doing backflips off benches. They're suprisingly accomplished. Maybe Belfast is a 'good city for parkour' after all.

Tammy Moore