BWW Review: STREB EXTREME ACTION Brings Power and Artistry to Movement at the Kennedy Center
With pure kinetic energy and abounding bravery to boot, it is no wonder the performers of STREB Extreme Action are billed as Action Heroes.
The company's three performances of the new work SEA (SINGULAR EXTREME ACTIONS) on November 4-5 at the Eisenhower Theatre marked STREB Extreme Action's Kennedy Center debut. Dance + Kennedy Center might connote a certain primness - itchy clothes, opera glasses, and careful behavior. STREB is anything but prim. MacArthur "genius award" winner Elizabeth Streb merges dance, gymnastics, circus arts, and Hollywood stunt work, in a unique style she calls PopAction. With SEA (SINGULAR EXTREME ACTIONS) she explores what does action look, sound, and feel like?
If ever you were ten years old and had gullible siblings to work with or wild neighborhood buddies egging you on you may have considered some of the physical daring the STREB dancers brought to the stage (bungee cords!, trampolines!, flying swan dives from on high!), but it takes STREB Extreme Action's precision, strength, finesse, and skill to so splendidly merge such daring and artistry. It was truly a wonder to behold.
In the opening "action event," AIR, the performers ping on and off a giant trampoline, landing unflinchingly flat on the mats below. Ever faster and ever more exact, the dancers landed just inches from each other, fanning out across the floor mat. I was reminded of a favorite place in Washington, Gravelly Point near the end of the Reagan National runway where the roaring planes come at you with such speed and ferocity; each time I am there I am concerned that even with proven power and accuracy one plane could so easily miss the mark, but they never do. The STREB dancer-athletes demonstrate such trust in their training and in each other; they, too, could so easily miss the mark, but never do.
STREB Extreme Action brings art to physics - understanding the natural laws of motion, energy and force. The company uses many unique props to challenge and explore movement. In TILT the dancers push into handstands and construct human geometric forms on a giant wedged mat. In SQUIRM the many artists pile and twist within a tight plexiglass box. To the strains of Al Green's "Love and Happiness," two dancers play with the give-and-take, strain and restraint of being joined together by a bungee cord. In ROCK a specially-constructed half-circle tips forward and back as dancers surf, slide, and lunge on top. As dancers ascend a giant scaffold and we worry they will fall ... and they do. The artists deliberately dive and tumble from on high. In SILVER BULLET that same scaffolding features a giant ladder, rotating like a propeller. As the ladder revolves, dancers jump on and off from both sides trading places. The artists push their bodies through the openings then hold their bodies aloft as the ladder continues to rotate.
In red unitards the performers indeed looked like action heroes, soaring like birds and planes, leaping tall buildings in a single bound. The simple cloth showed that all body types, all genders, have strength, power and ability. Each member of that ensemble was vital to the whole. (Yet when one company member had to sit out the final piece of Saturday's matinee due to an injury after an equipment malfunction, the ensemble quickly and subtly reconfigured the choreography and proceeded as consummate professionals in a public performance must.)
The company is comprised of eight strong and dynamic movement artists: Loganne Bond, Jackie Carlson, Leonardo Giron Torres, Felix Hess, Cassandre Joseph, Matthew McEwen, Daniel Rysak, and Jamarious Stewart. Zaire Baptiste as resident DJ and music producer was on stage with Washington, D.C.-based DJ BEATrix.
Though it is gorgeous to watch, STREB's choreography doesn't shy away from demonstrating that moving in life or on stage is hard work. We hear the impact of bodies colliding. We hear breathing and grunts. Hollywood's slapstick pratfalls land with a resounding smack against the mat (augmented with some fun sound design from Baptiste). We hear the dancers cue the movement - a necessity with such precise timing.
In these ways and many others, the audience at the Kennedy Center was truly invited in - many of the traditional walls and barriers to experiencing the arts were removed. A camera was trained on the audience as it arrived, prompting many to jump and wave to see themselves projected on an on-stage screen. The DJ, camera operator, and members of the Dance Company were seen on stage and in the wings before the performance. The audience was encouraged to take pictures and video during the performance to post on social media. Once the performance began, clapping and making noise was requested. About the only behavior that was discouraged was passively sitting. The Saturday matinee audience attracted a great number of children; among them many young boys - a rarity at most dance performances. Throughout the year, the company opens its Brooklyn dance studio to the public to observe the dancers' rehearsal.
STREB Extreme Action marked the second time in just a few weeks that Kennedy Center audiences were treated to the highly innovative choreography of a MacArthur genius (tap dancer Michelle Dorrance and her company were featured in October).
Runtime: Approximately 1:45 including one intermission
STREB Extreme Action's SEA (SINGULAR EXTREME ACTIONS) has concluded its run at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' Eisenhower Theater. For more information on future dance performances at the Kennedy Center please see its website here. For more on the touring or public rehearsal schedules of STREB Extreme Action please refer to the company's website.
Photo Credits: Photos 1, 2 and 4 from top (red unitards) by Teresa Wood. Photos 3 and 5 from top (in black) by Josh Flannigan.