Wednesday, November 01, 2006

STREB's Rollercoaster

We get a lot of great acts at the Flynn but tonights' was body rock slammed out of the damn ballpark! STREB is a dance company based out of Williamsburg, New York. STREB is the creation and dream of the powerhouse choreographer, Elizabeth Streb.

Elizabeth Streb is the kind of person that you can't really miss. She stands out in a crowd and even though our first show was on Halloween, her look was no costume, the lady just has style. She talks to everyone.

Randomly grabbing high school kids as they pass and asking them to find her after the show and tell her what they thought. Chatting with the guy who drives the tractor trailer hauling around their massive set and reprimanding her dancers for sneezing out of turn (her pet peeve). You gotta love big personalities but maybe that is just me.

The dancers are ripped like prime specimans of the human species. STREB's vision is to mix dance with gymnastics and her choreography is a cross between a sporting event, the ballet and a trip to the fair.

STREB's dancers are a mass of muscles and hard edges, not an ounce of fat on their lean limbs. There is a certain aura people like that give off, as though they are in a different stratum from the rest of us flabby mortals.

And then, to see them perform on stage: spinning, bouncing, slamming, somersaulting, balancing, twisting, soaring and leaping through a rigidly choreographed number. The amount of pain they inflict on their rock hard bodies to perform these feats of athletic prowess must be massive.

Backstage there was a first aid kit sitting open as though it was in constant use. I couldn't help but wonder what the 60+ body slams they do per day did to their insides. They must be made of steel.

Add all this to the stage sized video screen which pumps flashing imagery of planes, graphics, light trails and computer imagery that feeds into the dance to a melodic soundtrack that stretches from classical to new wave to upbeat and you have an unparalleled 3 dimensional theatrical experience.

I must admit that I often find the theater experience wanting. Even if a company is wonderful and doing a show that I really enjoy such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (I left that one at intermission), there is a part of me that is sort of disconnected and counting the fleur de lis painted on the wall.

Maybe it is my short attention span which is most likely a direct result of too much channel surfing and YouTube flipping, but whatever its cause, ultimately, for theater to survive the modern world, it needs to adapt and morph into something that can hold the interest of an audience of channel flippers. Call me crazy, go ahead!

STREB could be the slamming, rock hard wave signalling this change, it certainly leaves you feeling elated and breathless. Not only is it original and modern, but it gives you the feeling that you are flying, and there is not much better than that in my book.

You know that wonderful feeling you get at an amusement park when you are spinning around in one of those cobra thingies and it feels like any moment, the car might detach and you'll go soaring off into space, and eventually fly like a bird. It is exhilerating, frightening and exciting. The feeling of weightlessness, sort of like a return to the womb but more fun.

Additionally, STREB give you the *gasps* you find at the circus. As the dancers fall, one by one, in a regimented and quick flow, from a platform which is quickly getting higher and higher, I can't help but gasp out loud, sometimes yelling, "Nooo, don't do it!" And when the last dancer waits at the top of the now 25+ foot high platform, I yell, "Jump, jump, jump, do it!" and when he falls, I scream as though at the climax of a horror movie. It is so fun to evoke these animal instincts and emotions. So few of my theater experiences give me such a thrill. I am too busy shifting in my seat and thinking about what to cook for dinner.

The student matinees were packed to the brim and the excitement was emmenating off the kids like a fiery furnace. They were told in the intro that they could make as much noise as they liked and they went to town. The elementary school crowd screamed at the top of their lungs, clapped and yelled (it sounded like a theater full of little girls with Beatlemania!). The high school crowd were slightly more subdued but they still participated with yells and applause.

I must admit to being vaguely disappointed by the older crowd that attended the evening show. There were some awkward smatterings of applause, a "Whoo" here or there and an occasional gasp but I was the only one yelling, "Jump, jump, jump!" and squealing in fear and excitement.

I always enjoy a show more when I am allowed to interact with it. It makes me feel like I am a part of a once in a lifetime experience, and I suppose that is the joy of the performing arts. Each show is different every time they perform it. Every detail is unique to that location. I hope in the future, we'll see more shows like STREB. Dance companies that are ebbing and flowing with the modern world and keeping us flexible and alive as we become more and more sedentary and computer based.

STREB is building on what we have and what we know and spiriting us back to a better time, back to our childhood when we were strong,happy, flexible and always ready for a tumble. A time when spinning around the jungle gym bar at the playground brought us immense joy and when it was ok to get close to your neighbor and perhaps hold them in the palm of your hand or balance with them on a thin ribbon. There is a clear, invigorating, child-like joy in a show like this. STREB is a breath of fresh air in an ancient, rarely aired room.

You can read the Flynn's Study Guide about STREB here. You can see STREB on YouTube here. Below is a promo for Wild Blue Yonder, the show they just performed at the Flynn.

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