New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click
here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance
at its best.
back to Flash Reviews
Flash Review 3, 2-13; Ready, Set....
Up, Down, and Every Which Way But Loose with Streb's Action Heroes
By Jessica Swoyer
Copyright 2002 Jessica Swoyer
CHICAGO -- Elizabeth Streb's latest
visit to Chicago brought Streb Go: ActionHeroes to the Museum of Contemporary
Art this past weekend. Described in the program as an animated flipbook, Streb
Go: ActionHeroes is based on the choreographer's original work "ActionHeroes,"
which the company has been touring since 2000. "ActionHeroes" traces the lineage
of Streb's own physicality, celebrating stunt artists whose feats, the choreographer
maintains, have far too rarely been acknowledged. Figures such as Evil Knevil,
Cannonball Joe, and Annie Taylor -- the woman who crossed Niagra Falls in a barrel
-- may have often thrilled general audiences, but were also disdained by them.
But to their devoted fans and followers these daredevils are heroes in their own
right. Streb celebrates and elevates them through her art.
The MCA's small theater presented
Streb's larger-than-life, highly athletic movement and multi-faceted set in an
intimate package: a jack in the box ready to explode upon opening. Using video
projection, still images and narration, ActionHeroes consists of two acts sub-divided
into titled sections that in a matter-of-fact manner tell what is to come, such
as the opening sequence Rise and Fall. Like her titles, Streb gets to the point
immediately, as her eight dancers stand face forward on a beam -- part of the
company's portable 20-foot-tall metal box truss -- and as it begins to rise they
each take turns falling to the mats below. Terry Dean Bartlett is the last dancer
to fall, waiting until the beam has nearly reached the top of the stage before
free falling, landing face down with a loud and effortful wallop. In "ActionHeroes"
there is no warm-up -- not for the audience, at least -- and it is this mentality,
displayed in Rise and Fall, that sets the stage for the rest of the show.
This art form, a movement style in
which dancers seem to completely give themselves up to faith, is what Streb calls
"Pop-Action Technique." The technical demands on the Streb dancer, though, can
only fully be appreciated when one can empathize with these demands. Perhaps this
is why Streb includes an audience participation moment in which she instructs
us how to feel the ground, be aware of the body in space and squeeze the muscles
tightly -- more commonly understood as holding on for dear life. However you explain
it, these fit and able bodies transform themselves into torpedo-like structures
that not only blast through plexi-glass but also become lithe and malleable on
As much as Streb's work greatly incorporates
physical impact -- with bodies slamming against mats and walls or being packed
like sardines into a tiny box -- she does not solely depend on it. In "BiLevel,"
the choreographer again includes the moving beam. This time, however, she choreographs
a sextet. With three dancers on top of the beam and three dancers hanging from
it, we see how dancing in unison can be performed with and without a "floor."
The actual movements are rather simple, including v-shapes and 360- degree rotations,
but when performed in unison on two levels it looks as though the dancers hanging
below the beam are an extension of the dancers firmly on top of it. This re-orientation
of perspective for the audience as well as for the dancer is what makes Streb's
work anything but another circus act.
There is a truth to Streb, her work
and the company that exists because of her nod to the laws of nature. In no way
is she ever trying to deny our human limits within this world. Rather, she is
making us aware of our human movement potential. In a recent interview with the
Chicago Tribune's Ruth Lopez, Streb said, "We can show them that they are moving
animals. I try to share with the people in the room that they can learn how to
fly." While this comment has a romantic twist, "ActionHeroes" confronts the reality
of this idea, not only by showing gorgeous swan dives finished with loud thuds
but also by including a quote from Evil Knevil admitting that "it's the landing
that's the problem."
Streb's humor is obviously just as
honest. In the second act, a section called Edge reveals the dancers creating
a human sandwich against a clear plexi-glass standing wall. Perpendicularly between
the glass and the human pile is a smooshed performer. As the weight of the pile
begins slowly decreasing, the dancer's body slides against the glass, leaving
greasy face marks as his lips, cheeks and nose press into the wall, squeaking
all the way down to the floor. A miked set amplifies the sounds made by the contact
of the body. There is no way to get around the silly faces that are made as the
dancer slides down that wall, but just as we feel an urge to laugh we cringe at
the thought that what we are seeing must also be painful.
The grand finale of "ActionHeroes"
spoils us with a full-company trampoline act called simply "Up and Down." But
simple it is not, as we are offered a feast for the eyes and the senses. This
is the one moment where if the audience could've, it would've joined in. Imagine
jumping on a trampoline and having to catch the double bounce of your partner
in order to get enough height to dive from the center of the trampoline to the
mats below, all the while being careful not to over-dive in the event you might
miss the mat altogether. Now imagine eight more people weaving themselves on to
and off of the trampoline. This is "Up and Down." Bodies not only demonstrate
once again the art of the dive, but also the ability to hover horizontally above
the floor. With the vertical advantage the trampoline creates, Streb uses the
line of the body placed in different geometrical planes to create a complex pattern
that as a whole constantly shifts formation. Once again she challenges the way
we look at movement and space.
Dancers in Thursday night's performance
included Sheila Carreras Brandson, Brian Brooks, Lisa Dalton, Chantal Deeble,
Nikita Maxwell, Eli McAfee, Weena Pauly and the previously mentioned Terry Dean
Bartlett, who also choreographed the sections Gravity and Spin.
Combining Nick Fortunato's video
segments of Houdini and other daredevil types with their stories, Streb Go: "ActionHeroes"
allows glimpses of those who have dared to discover "what if ?" and sends the
audience on its way to ponder just that.
back to Flash Reviews