Dangerous Productions’ Jungle 2 Jungle blends parkour and refugees for one unforgettable experience

Arts / Article

It began with a simple hypothesis: Karen refugees would be good at parkour. What that idea transformed into came to fruition Memorial Day weekend, as a group of 20+ Karen high schoolers and a team of artists performed a hybrid of theater and sport at a park nestled in Saint Paul’s Hamline Midway neighborhood. Blending daring and sometimes acrobatic movement with a series of games woven around the narratives of the refugee experience, a local audience witnessed something unlike anything Saint Paul had ever seen.

Funded by a MN Partners in Arts Participation Grant, Dangerous Productions teamed up with two other organizations- the Karen Organization of Minnesota (a refugee services organization), and Fight or Flight Academy, the Twin Cities only Parkour gym.  For two months,  instructors and artists got together with a group of 15-21 year old students from the LEAP High School in Saint Paul to learn vaults, rolls, cat grabs, and yes, even learned how to run up walls.

Simultaneously, they talked with the students, sharing stories, learning about the amazing and sometimes harrowing journeys that brought them to Minnesota.  These stories became the basis for a series of “performance games”.  Rules, roles, boundaries all were determined by the elements of each story. Chit Tway, a seventeen-year-old Karen boy, shared a story about living in the refugee camp and having nothing to eat. He and some friends they broke into their neighbors frog pond”, only to be chased by its owners and eventually captured by police.  So, a game was designed where one team had to vault into a large pond area, steal a frog, and then evade police as they ran back to their “home”.  Games and stories were exciting, funny, heartbreaking, and ultimately empowering for all of the participants, some of whom had been in America for as little as four months.

“The project was about shifting paradigms,” said Tyler Olsen, artistic leader of Dangerous Productions- For the students, who came from a refugee camp with zero opportunity, they learned that they can truly make their own opportunities. Every obstacle became a chance to be creative; Every story, no matter how terrible, became a chance to share and play.  For the artists, it opened our eyes to totally new ways to tell a story. And for the audience, it not only increased cultural understanding, but also connected them to fellow members of their community, and yet again emphasized the power of art to bring people, no matter how different, together.

Thein Win, Michelle Casali, Maung Maung Oo; photo by Soren Olsen, Gifthorse Productions