STREB Brave can only be described as circus stunt meets drill team meets extreme gymnastics

February 9, 2010

Brave New World STREB at the Annenberg Center

by Deni Kasrel

Published: Feb 9, 2010 Las

Watching STREB at the Annenberg Center on Thursday night reminded me of the old Batman TV series where bursts of Bam! Pop! and Zowie! flashed during the action scenes. In both cases you're seeing entertaining choreographed antics — except with STREB's program, Brave, the sounds come from people whacking themselves against walls with genuine force.

The true threat of injury heightens suspense. When the performers — or "actioneers," as they're called in the program — dash, duck and roll while concrete blocks and iron beams swing, you recognize that split-second timing is required to avert total calamity. Loud thumps, heard when bodies splat on mats following launches off a rotating device called the "Whizzing Gizmo," admittedly amplified for effect, are real.

Throughout the program, dancers call out special names for their zaniest moves — "dizzy cockroach" and "Dos Equis" make an appearance. They give the audience reason to smile, too: When seven actioneers squeeze into a box, tight like sardines, it seems impossible to fit another in. Yet one more limber dancer slithers through a slit in the box, flattened against the clear front panel, looking as smushed as lips against a window.

This is absolute physical performance. It's circus stunt meets drill team meets extreme gymnastics. The sheer stamina required is incredible, as is the ability to form patterns amid a wild rumpus.

The company likens its rehearsal process to a laboratory where mechanical or scientific principles — gravity, momentum, counterweight, centrifugal force — lay the foundation for the dance. What winds up on stage is the result of ongoing experimentation and inquiry into how bodies can interact with other bodies as well as objects both common and curious.

In Artificial Gravity, performers negotiate two circular devices moving in opposite directions. As the spinning gets faster, they're nearly thrown for a loop. You can tell by all the obvious physical effort and facial expressions that it's a serious challenge to not be tossed off this contraption.

When the show ended, company director Elizabeth Streb came out and asked, "Aren't they incredible?" Indeed.