Hip-hop, YouTube and school yarns

LORD OF THE DANCE: Shaun Parker directs the kids of The Yard.
LORD OF THE DANCE: Shaun Parker directs the kids of The Yard.

"There hasn't been a show like this in Australia. It's not sugar-coated, some of the scenes are quite violent and unsettling, but they're about what's seen through the eyes of teenagers, and I'm very interested in celebrating humanity."

There is a telling quote from the London Times - "Parker always has something up his sleeve" - that indicates the level of international expectation for his productions.

Shaun started dancing as a teenager and went on to perform with the Sydney Theatre Company, Australian Dance Theatre, Meredith Monk (New York) and win the prestigious Australian Dance Award for Best Independent Production. He's completed commissions for the 2012 London Cultural Olympiad and a series for the BBC.

He started conducting dance workshops with predominately refugee and migrant children in Western Sydney schools three years ago.

"They're at that very fragile age where they're no longer children, but they're not quite adults. There's some very powerful stuff in that."

Shaun developed a concept based on William Golding's novel The Lord of the Flies, set in a schoolyard, that encouraged the kids to improvise, allowing concepts to emerge from their experience. It relied heavily on urban dance and hip-hop moves, as absorbed through the internet.

"They're very much a YouTube generation. Instead of exploring one idea in depth, their brains go off in many directions - it's from YouTube having those recommended videos on the side where they constantly select new ideas, which they acknowledge and dispose of with the click of a button."

One of the more bizarre innovations is a style developed by hip-hop dancers called 'tutting', based on finger hieroglyphics inspired by the myth of the Egyptian King Tut.

"What they've tried to do with their hands and arms is create their own language. They're so fast and articulate, it's incredible. When I was a kid we had 'electric boogaloo', which had similar movements, but there was no way we could have moved at that speed and I honestly believe it's linked to the amount of information they're getting through the internet. From a movement point of view, I find that fascinating. It gives it a dreamlike quality and I wanted to work with that in a filmic way, to reflect the influence of YouTube."

The use of surreal elements gives The Yard a filmic edge that bridges the gap between theatre and reality.

"I like to twist reality and put it on the stage. It holds a mirror to society but distorts the image. The kids just lapped it up, it layered very nicely on their ideas. One scene involves a very surreal David Lynch part, where girls dance with pompoms like cheerleaders - a commentary on the influence of American MTV culture."

There is no spoken word in the performance, it's all done with the body and with props that you'd find in the schoolyard.

"What's happening is all in their minds, part of a self-devised piece of art. There's a small group of them that are going to have careers in the theatre and that's really rewarding. It's been amazing seeing them switch on - now they're helping new kids in turn."

NORPA presents The Yard on Monday September 3 at 1.30pm & 7.30pm at Lismore City Hall. For bookings phone 1300 066 772 or online;

Tickets - Adult $30; Conc $25; Under 18 $16.50; Groups $15 pp.

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