Bodies shot into space: Streb: Go! Action Heroes.
Mae G. Banner
Go! Action Heroes
Egg, March 20
Elizabeth Streb’s heroes are Harry Houdini, Isaac Newton,
Buster Keaton, and the hard hats who work construction on
high girders. These are the thinkers and high-risk movers
who inspired the choreography for Streb Go! Action Heroes,
a sweeping, swooping rocket of a show on Saturday, March 20,
at the Egg.
Streb’s Brooklyn-based company of four men and two women did
not defy gravity. They embraced it. Every climb, bounce and
spin off the troupe’s giant Erector Set construction climaxed
with a full-body belly whopper onto the blue gym mats below.
The satisfying pow! sounds were music to a comic book
When it comes to action heroes, I always liked Batman and
Wonder Woman more than Superman, because they had tools, not
just muscles. Streb’s dancers—half the company members were
formerly divers, gymnasts or acrobats—have lots of great tools:
bungee cords, harnesses, metal flying machines, walls to walk
up or bounce off, and aerial hoops to curl inside of, like
the man in the moon.
These dancers also have the will and the skill to fling their
bodies into space, to risk getting seriously clobbered by
a fellow dancer in orbit, and to jump out of the way at the
last possible instant. This they did, repeatedly, in a program
of 10 exhilarating bits with such titles as, Free Flight,
Bilevel, and the glorious Air.
Streb, a MacArthur Grant winner in 1997, founded her company
two years later. Her goal is to reach the audience physically
by displaying her dancers in extreme versions of everyday
moves: walking, running, jumping, landing. She wants us to
feel in our gut the risks the dancers are taking and to appreciate
the artfulness of familiar moves.
In a pre-show talk, Streb said her dance heroes included Trisha
Brown (for her daring play with everyday movements) and Alvin
Ailey, who said, “Dance belongs to the people; we give it
back to them.”
Streb’s populism permeates her aesthetic. You see it in the
Brecht-style slide projections that label every dance, and
even more in the occasional sign that says “Work,” projected
during set changes that are carried out in full view by half
a dozen stagehands in black jumpsuits.
Also, you can’t mistake these dancers for gods or fictional
characters. They are people at work. One dancer may call the
cadence, saying, “Ready? Go!” Or, a dancer may call moves
in an aerial quadrille: “Arch. Curve. Diagonal. Roll.” And,
they all shout when they’re moved to do so.
Above the mats, the two-level framework of girders, and the
mylar backboards (the better to reflect the dancers’ movements),
there’s a Times Square-type streaming sign with continuous
comment in red-lights letters: “If you’re not flying, what’s
the point? . . . The only thing you need is a good steady
push . . .”
Then, there are the demystifying intros projected on the back
wall: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Newton’s third law of motion.” Actually, in the quartet, Air,
Newton morphed into Leonardo da Vinci’s multi-limbed image
of man, with echoes of my favorite gym teacher, all combined
in a set of everyday moves that were magnified, stretched,
made dangerous and ultimately freeing.
was introduced as an homage to high-rise iron workers. Terry
Dean Bartlett and Jonah Spear walked up a steep ramp—really,
the backs of Christine Chen and DeeAnn Nelson, then stood
on the women’s heads, bounced off their bodies, and did multiple
somersaults while swinging in harness.
As a dancer swung out and back at high velocity, his partner/pusher
on the ground sped out of the way, always just in time. I
thought of the stunts we did on the playground swings, but,
carried to the 10th power.
The constant near-misses became high comedy in Kit of Parts,
a tribute to Buster Keaton that featured dancers swinging
8-foot-long two-by-fours while their buddies ducked with perfect
comic timing. Then, Streb and another dancer stood with their
backs to a couple of plywood walls, each with one square window
cut out. The walls fell forward—splat—threatening to smash
the dancers. But, no. The dancers remained standing straight
and tall in exactly the right spot, so their heads poked through
those windows. Streb just proved you can fit a round peg in
a square hole.
When the dancers weren’t flying, they were sardining—layering
their unitard-clad bodies one on top of the other in a human
four-decker sandwich, or squeezing into a glass-walled coffin
à la Houdini, then, amazingly, making room for one more, as
Bartlett entered the box from below, squirmed among his sardine
pals, rose out the top, and dived headfirst to the mat. The
effect of Squirm was slow and lovely.
Chen was the star in FLY, a glorious demonstration
of Newton’s first law (“a body in motion will remain in motion,
unless . . . ”) Buckled at the waist into the crossed bars
of a metal flying machine, she took a run and a jump, and
then kept flying forever, round and round, faster and faster,
in a grand tour de force, while her grounded friends helped
out with the occasional push. Chen flew; they ducked; the