Philadelphia Inquirer reviews STREB Brave at the Annenberg Center

February 6, 2010

How about a little more dance in this dancing?

By Ellen Dunkel

For The Inquirer

STREB's Brave is a little bit Cirque du Soleil. It's a little bit Pilobolus. It's a little bit a lot of things, but there's still something missing.

Parts of Brave are fun and creative, to be sure, but ultimately STREB is a dance company, and Brave is light on the dancing. While it mixes elements of circus arts, acrobatics, Hollywood-type stunts, and many other performance forms, dance should be the glue that holds it all together. Yet the dancers at Thursday night's performance at the Annenberg Center often seemed to be going through the motions more than performing them.

This was most obvious in the "Airlines" section of the piece, in which four dancers - "actioneers," as artistic director Elizabeth Streb calls them - aloft in harnesses, "walked" on a vertical wall, twirled, and did cartwheels and handsprings in midair. All this should have been jaw-dropping, but the dancers made it look as awkward as it probably was.

In "Crash and Slide," on the other hand, movement seemed to burst out all over the stage. A succession of dancers in colorful tops and shorts did back handsprings, swan-dived into forward rolls, and leaped over one another onto a long, padded springboard, while another line of dancers in front of the first slipped and glided along a long slide board.

"Wall Run Turn" used an apparatus that looked like a gymnastic high bar with a clear wall beneath it. The dancers slammed into the wall, used it to vault themselves into back somersaults, and piled on one another while hanging in various directions off the bar and across the wall.

How many people can you squeeze into a Volkswagen? In "Squirm," eight people fit in a clear, car-sized box on stage - seven stacked atop one another and an eighth slithering in from an opening in the bottom, then moving upward. Once he made it to the top position, he worked his way back down again.

The most successful section was "Super Position," in which a large aerial wheel rotated as dancers walked, jumped, and somersaulted both inside and outside it, occasionally leaping from great heights onto enormous crash pads. In this final passage, the "actioneers" finally seemed to have come to life.

STREB's cast of eight includes Samantha Jakus, a Philadelphia native who studied dance at Temple.

Brave is fun, but not nearly as awe-inspiring as it could be. The presentation needs to be turned up a notch.