ELIZABETH STREB'S dancers slam into walls. They jump through plate-glass windows and hurl themselves off tall platforms onto the ground, where they land with an audible thud. They fly through the air, literally, sometimes under their own power and sometimes using machines that resemble souped-up playground equipment. In an art form that usually hides the rough seams and masks the effort involved, Streb's dancers couldn't be more up-front about the mechanics of the astonishing tricks they perform and the bone-jarring result of their flights. Martha Graham sometimes referred to dancers as "acrobats of God," and the description applies to these particular artists: They're acrobats, gymnasts, stunt people, and daredevils, and our guts lurch along with their hyperphysical routines. The kinesthetic kick you get from these performers could give you a heart attack.
Moore Theatre December 7-10
And that's just fine by Elizabeth Streb. Over the last several years, she says, her personal definition of her work has shifted from dance to what she calls "pop action"—taking the work out of the standard dance environment and developing a style that is utilitarian in its exploration of force and mass. One of her goals is for the audience to have that visceral reaction to watching movement, and her means of achieving this is to turn up the volume on the dancers exponentially. The more intensely physical the choreography, the more likely it is the viewer will have a mirrored reflex. The instinct that lets you dodge an errant tennis ball before it smacks you in the face responds to the power of the physicality, creating a shadow dance in the audience. It's the same movement, just done on a smaller scale.
Strobe calls her company Ringside, which feels appropriate since the work incorporates elements from boxing and circus acts, as well as many other chancy operations. In the '80s, we saw several companies perform what was called, at the time, high-risk dancing, most notably Edouard Locke and La La La, but here, the dancerliness is almost entirely stripped away. We are down to basic locomotion, the nuts and bolts of getting around, revved up to hyperspeed. (It seems appropriate that the company logo resembles the Everlast label on boxing shorts.)
THIS NOT-SO-TRADITIONAL dance is often performed in not-so-traditional places. Streb makes full use of a wild collection of machines that both limit and free the dancers to walk on the ceiling, roll up the walls, and fly through the air. A recipient of a MacArthur "genius" fellowship in 1997, Streb has used part of the grant to commission specialty equipment, a self-contained set/lighting grid/video system that allows the group to set up in spaces that otherwise would be off limits to them. They've danced in parks, on the boardwalk at Coney Island, and under the Brooklyn Bridge, as well as at more conventional venues.
For all of their austerity, Streb's dances contain powerful images of freedom and entrapment. In Fly, a long line of dancers topples like dominoes, tipped over by another dancer "flying" at the end of a long, pivoting arm. Her delicacy as she literally runs up the chest of the first person in line is sweet; later, that tenderness is translated into something more brutal as the contact starts to resemble the first break in a pool game. In Little Ease, the soloist twists and struggles inside a version of the Pilgrims' torture device, a box just small enough so that the prisoner inside couldn't stretch out. Action Heroes, the company's current work, is a tribute to courageous action figures like Evel Knieval and Cannonball Adderly, and while there probably won't be any motorcycles involved, you'll get a rush all the same.