An Extreme Action Dance Performance Returns to Boston

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The STREB dancers are brave indeed.
Courtesy of Ashmont Media


STREB Dance Company

October 22 - 24

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA

Forcing me to squirm and yelp and half-cover my eyes in incredulity, the STREB company dancers returned to Boston with a bang last weekend. Considered neither modern nor contemporary dance, but more along the lines of circus, extreme sports, and Hollywood stunt-work, STREB dancers wowed me with their petrifying feats of body contortion and athleticism.

Perhaps the most blood-curdling piece involved three dancers clutching three cinder bricks attached to strings from the ceiling and swinging them across the dance stage. In between the periods of these swinging concussions waiting to happen, dancer after dancer leapt across the floor and landed flat on their stomachs, eliciting a violent pancake smack each time. Sharp intakes of breath could be heard throughout the entire audience.

Other hair-raising pieces included contortions in a metal cage-like apparatus, and the gravity-defying acrobatics in Whizzing Gizmo. Many of the mechanisms featured were actually designed through a joint collaboration between STREB and the MIT Media Lab. The rotating harnesses, for example, were designed by MIT assistant professor Hugh Herr SM ’93, head of the Biomechatronics Lab.

Elizabeth Streb, the founder and choreographer, established STREB in 1985 and is widely known for her experimentation and muscle-and-motion vocabulary. Now, in their space in Brooklyn, she runs SLAM (STREB Lab for Action Mechanics) as well, where the door is always open for the public to come and watch rehearsals and take classes. After the show, I chatted with Elizabeth Streb and Ami Ipapo, a longtime STREB dancer.

The Tech: What’s the scariest part of doing the BRAVE show?

Ami Ipapo: The bricks, for sure. There’s a different configuration at each stage we perform at — so the timing is different every time. I’ve never gotten hit, but some people definitely have.

TT: How long have you been with STREB?

Ipapo: I’m 29 now, and I’ve been with STREB for five years. I was trained as a modern dancer, and I’ve also taught Pilates and am a personal trainer on the side.

TT: How much do you think about the surrounding environment and music when you’re out there, versus the movements?

Elizabeth Streb: As non-traditional dancers, we don’t focus on the counts. There’s too much to concentrate on all the time, so we focus beyond counts — we call it “felt time,” as in athletics.

TT: What is it like to interact with the sets and the apparatuses that you use in your performance? Who builds them, architects or engineers?

Streb: Engineers, for sure. Architects don’t yet understand temporality — spaces, maybe — but they don’t understand time. And that’s what we do.

As she gave me her business card, I read her title: “Elizabeth Streb, Action Architect.”

Ironic, indeed.

STREB was actually one of the opening performers at Boston’s ICA when it opened in late 2006. Today, they have a far-flung schedule from Phoenix to Erie to Chapel Hill, but they will be at home in Brooklyn from December 4–20 if you’d like to experience the space-shifting, wince-evoking, human-body-crashing phenomenon for yourself.