Feats of daredevilry
On Wednesday October 27, a team of dancers known as Streb Extreme Action came to Portland’s Merrill Auditorium to perform STREB: Raw, a highly exciting and dynamic show of unconventional motion.
In 1979, choreographer Elizabeth Streb founded this unique performing group, touring throughout the US and internationally. In 2003 Streb established S.L.A.M. (Streb Lab for Action Mechanics) in Brooklyn, NY, where rehearsals are completely public, inviting members of the community to watch the actioneers perform unbelievable stunts.
As stated in the program notes, Elizabeth Streb’s choreography, (known as “PopAction”), “intertwines the disciplines of dance, athletics, boxing, rodeo, the circus and Hollywood stunt work.” From the moment the lights dimmed, I could tell that this was going to be one unique performance.
As people began to silence their cell phones, one of the sound designers, shouted into the microphone, “Portland, we want you to have a great time tonight, and we just want to let you know that we believe in audience sovereignty!
“Leave your phones on, we encourage you to take pictures, upload videos on YouTube, Facebook, whatever; just promise us that if you see something you like, let us know.” This definitely set the tone for the rest of the show to follow.
The first set of movement sequences involved a huge panel of Plexiglas set in the middle of the stage. One by one, the actioneers would sprint toward the panel and collide headlong with it, plastering their bodies to the glass and then allowing themselves to fall backward, making the audience cringe with each leap, flip and dive. The actioneers however, performed these stunts unflinchingly.
One signature move involved the actioneers landing in a full body face plant on a mat whenever they jumped off a prop. This left audience members baffled; everyone in my row would cry out as we watched the performers propel themselves off platforms, dodge swinging wooden beams and cinderblocks and constantly flirt with gravity.
At one point, all the actioneers stood on a platform that was gradually rising upward, one by one the performers jumped off the platform and landed stiff as a board on the mat below. By the time the last actioneer jumped off, the platform was level with the top of the stage curtain rod. In a technique involving bracing all her muscles right before the landing, the actioneer was able to land perfectly stiff on the mat without hurting herself at all.
Similarly, at one point during the show, one actioneer held another above his head. The lifted performer reclined backward in a fashion that was strikingly similar to that of the “Dance of the Arabians” in the Nutcracker Ballet. However, instead of lowering her to the ground gracefully, the male actioneer threw her off of his shoulder and she fell forward (bracing herself) with unexpected audacity. These shocking moments of unexpected action define Streb’s style. As aptly stated by the program notes, “Streb believes that true movement invention happens accidentally with the milling together of strangers and out of the diverse movement voices that accidentally cross paths.”
STREB: Raw was comprised of effortless movement sequences that all possess an improvisational, elastic quality to them, incorporating many aspects of dance, gymnastics and stunt work. The company earned many awards including annual support from the National Endowment for the Arts. They are also widely recognized for their philanthropic work.
It was truly a show unlike anything I have ever seen, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys visual arts.