NYPK and Decadance: The Sweet Union of Hip Hop and Parkour

What do you get when you combine 6 hip hop dancers, 18 traceurs, some scaffolding and home-made vault boxes?

…A killer show!

On Nov 20-23, members of NYPK teamed up with Nadia Lesy, Jennifer Weber and the badass ladies of award-winning hip-hop crew Decadance Theatre for four nights of riveting parkour/hip-hop collaboration.

Read more for Nikkie Zanevsky's write up and pictures of the event!

“Just like hip-hop, there is an entire culture and philosophy behind parkour… one’s physical identity, spirit and mind are interconnected,” Nadia observed.

Nadia first entered the NYPK scene in 2007, interested in creating a film on parkour for her master’s degree in Film and Dance. She has since spent hours shooting footage with community members. “As a choreographer and videographer, I find parkour incredibly inspiring! The amount of energy, discipline and ingenuity that each traceur and traceuse brings with them is fantastic,” she said.

Jennifer first heard about parkour when Nadia started filming her documentary.  “At the time, I was working on the choreographic idea of the body as graffiti… using it as inspiration for movement, from flow to style to energy,” she recalled. When she saw parkour, Jennifer said she “realized there was this whole other movement going on that seemed to embody the idea of the body literally as graffiti through the city.” She compared the “really cool energy” of parkour to that of old school b-boy/b-girl culture, which is where most of her inspiration comes from.  “It seemed like a natural idea to try and fuse these things together and see what happens,” she suggested. And so the concept was born.

The first performance to feature hip-hop and parkour side by side, Physical Graffiti took place at the rugged-chic Brooklyn Lyceum, a theater with a multi-level stage, metal railings and climbable brick walls. The show came together as a pastiche of hip-hop and parkour, accompanied by film, animated graffiti and a live dj. Both the traceurs and the dancers invited the audience to re-imagine the human body as graffiti in an urban setting.

The night opened with a Nadia’s film, followed by a piece she directed, featuring all 18 traceurs and traceuses taking over the theater. To explain the reasoning behind the film/performance mash-up, Nadia mused “I wanted to bring Parkour to the stage... but my audience had to understand that it came from the streets FIRST.” Kicking off the show with a video of parkour in its natural environment – outdoors – was her solution.

Next came the centerpiece - MAX338 – a hip-hop rendition of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Max was cast as a mischievous graffiti artist, whose colorful creations came alive, dancing right off the walls, with movements inspired by the flow, shape and energy of urban lettering styles.

Giving the dancers a breather, a smaller group of experienced traceurs jumped back onstage for a tightly synchronized “big moves” piece choreographed by Jesse Danger (APK Alliance ). High-speed intersections through scaffolding and simultaneous flips really got the audience’s blood pumping. Planned by Jesse as a battle between cool uninterrupted flow and fiery explosive power, the piece concluded successfully for all involved.

The show continued with a psychedelic light-suit dance, another sensual hip-hop piece and a group hip-hop/parkour jam right onstage to top it all off.

Jesse admitted, “It was really great to work alongside and try to match the creativity and energy in choreography and performance of DECA.’' For her part, Jennifer said enthusiastically, “I think we found that there is a lot of really exciting potential for the artistic fusion of hip-hop and parkour… When it all came together on stage, I knew we had just opened the door to a whole new world of possibilities.” In spite of some technical difficulties and a last minute performer switch, the show was a great success.

As exciting as it was, the planning wasn’t all fun and games. Nadia mentioned, “Although some people did not have any exposure to dance, much less experience onstage, I felt like I needed to make things work.” Behind the scenes, Nadia and NYPK members worked hard to show up to regular rehearsals, with some performers traveling up to 2 hours each way.

In the end, everyone played a part in the choreography, the costume design and building the set. “My approach as a choreographer is VERY collaborative,” Nadia maintained. “The more input and spirited debate from my performers the better! Individuals such as Ryan Irish, Jesse Danger, and Nikkie Zanevsky made vital contributions. Also, it was great that Exo and other members of NYPK supported the performers, despite not being available to participate in the show themselves."

Among other things, this show proved that the sprawling NYC metropolitan area parkour community could come together, display some discipline and share its art with an audience. The community owes a special thanks to “Uncle” Ryan Irish for keeping everyone in check and motivated. His personal touch and weekly rehearsal videos helped everyone work on their moves and visualize the progress they’d made.

Looking back, Ryan provided some food for thought. "Everyone stepped it up for this performance,” he said, “Kids struggled to get their schoolwork done in time to make it to rehearsal, and outsiders were brought front-and-center. Everybody felt their limits stretch… and silently agreed that ‘the show must go on.’ I hope that those who participated will take that unsinkable attitude and apply it to their everyday lives and training."

So now that the show is over, what’s next?

Nadia, Jenn and Nikkie are already thinking about future possibilities. Giving us a taste of things to come, Nadia suggests, “It would be great to introduce more complex ideas of musicality, spacing… narrative themes… Ultimately, I would never want Parkour to lose its edge in the theater or become something it isn’t. I just want my audience to see how much it has to offer as an artistic form of expression.”

PHOTOS (in order of appearance within the article)

DECADANCE Group shotCopyright Aviva Maller Photography

  Action ShotCopyright Aviva Maller Photography

Action ShotCopyright Aviva Maller Photography


Action ShotCopyright Bill Hebert Photography


Action ShotCopyright Bill Hebert Photography


Action ShotCopyright Bill Hebert Photography

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Written by Zachary Cohn   
Monday, 08 December 2008 01:49
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 21:42