Pop!Tech: Elizabeth Streb – “I prefer the crash.”

Choreographer Elizabeth Streb is obsessed with action. “Action is about the now, the present tense.” She wants to see “extreme action out in the world”, but do so working in an artificial medium, the proscenium stage.

She reminds us that Tim Cahill tells us, “The explorer is the person who is lost.” She explores moves like diving through glass. “It’s emblematic of something very critical, which you can’t name.” She tells us that, ” Any of us could do this. Come to my studio and we’ll teach you.”

Human reference points are pretty simple – ground, water and air. “Given the minuteness of humans, I had to throw the bodies into this space,” to experience air. “I have always believed that humans could fly,” despite our solid bones and heavy musculature. “There’s another problem with flying – eventually you have to come down.” She reminds us a famous Evel Knievil quote: “I never had any trouble with the takeoff.”

Streb’s talk is deeply non-linear, punctuated by slides that layer aphoristic statements in colorful text, looking like powerpoint exploded. “If action is a verb, can it be the subject?” “What is action’s vanishing point?” She throws in a slide of the golden mean, some Richard Serra quotes, and tells us about the behavioral code of the theatre: “You can’t eat, talk, or have sex. So how do I make your experience purely physical?”

It’s required framing devices to show these sorts of movements. Streb talks about moving beyond “lights and tights” towards a form of dance that requires a 53-foot truck filled with box trusses and pads. It’s not a very economical way to run a dance company. But, “the first thing is the idea, then you figure out how to pay for it, and if you end up in a problem, then you figure it out.” She tells us, “I’m a present tense person. I can’t worry about the future.”

By changing the physical rules of the dance service, she asks questions about “body grammar – what is the grammar, the syntax, the declension. Are the knees and the hips similar?” A piece called “The Moon” is performed on a 20×20 frictionless surface, and is filmed from above, projected behind the dancers on stage. It twists how gravity works – support comes from the sizes of the stage rather than the floor. “You change your base of support, but dance normally. I have never been to the moon.”

Some of these pieces involve the ideas of danger and fear, “willingness to insert your body into harms way.” She shows us an image – “That’s a surfer, That’s a shark. That’s a bad situation.” Some of her pieces look a great deal like bad situations. “Ricochet” involves dancers launching themselves into a plexiglass wall, “target practice with your body.” To capture the sense of danger of a bull ride – “Eight seconds of hell” – she creates a stage punctuated by swinging concrete blocks. “There are places you can be on the stage and places you don’t want to be at certain times.” When dancers end up practicing in the space, they leave rehersals feeling exhilarated: “Guess what? I didn’t get hit by the block!” Putting pendulums onstage, she tells us, “was the first construction that was temporal first and visual second.”

The tools used onstage by her performing ensemble and her “Slam Lab” are astounding – one is a Newtonian lever device called “fly”. It’s a 400 pound counterweight on a lever, that allows dancers to fly in circles. She invites us to try this sort of flying. “Try this on the mattress in your hotel. Do this when no one’s looking. You can’t be travelling when you hit, otherwise you’ll scrape your kneecaps off. You’ve got to have air aim.”

Her work is all about this aim. “It’s basic research: shoot an arrow in the air. Where it lands, paint a bullseye.”

In questions after the presentation, someone asks Streb if she dreams of flying. “First of all, I don’t dream. Second, I’m not a lyrical person. I prefer the crash.”

Technorati tag:

This entry was posted in Pop!Tech 2007. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pop!Tech: Elizabeth Streb – “I prefer the crash.”

  1. Pingback: Pito’s Blog » Blog Archive » Pito Salas blogs about technology, life and everything

  2. rakia says:

    STREB at SLAM: INVISIBLE FORCES, THE SLAM FALL HOME SEASON.NEW YORK’S HOME-GROWN ACTION HEROES TURN ON THE HEAT WITH NEW IDEAS, NEW HARDWARE AND NEW MOVES
    TO WARD OFF WINTER’S CHILL, DECEMBER 5TH THROUGH DECEMBER 21ST AT THEIR WILLIAMSBURG PLAYGROUND/LAUNCHING PADS.L.A.M.

    Cost: $20 for adults/$10 for kids
    When: December 5-21, 2008, Fridays at 7pm, Saturdays at 3pm & 7pm, Sundays at 3pm
    Where: Streb Lab for Action Mechanics
    51 N. 1st Street
    Brooklyn NY 11211
    For tickets: http://www.streb.org or 12123523101

Comments are closed.