Elizabeth Streb: Drawing the Rhythm of Space

A quick google search will reveal, PopAction Choreographer, Elizabeth Streb’s accomplishments; she’s a MacArthur Genius, a Guggenheim recipient, an NEA grantee, she has probably received every sing

A quick google search will reveal, PopAction Choreographer, Elizabeth Streb’s accomplishments; she’s a MacArthur Genius, a Guggenheim recipient, an NEA grantee, she has probably received every single major arts honor one could ever want. Impressed? 

Let me tell you, do not confuse what Streb looks like merely on paper for the real deal that she is. Sisters, sitting in the presence of Streb Extreme Action is a holy act. Watching the human body draw the contours of space, in ferocious tempo, is a revelation of the divine.

Pardon my gushing and let me back tack to give you a little context.

People have been telling me about Elizabeth Streb for years. And back in ‘05 we had her long time partner, the political pundit/journalist/Girt TV host, Laura Flanders on the cover of Vp magazine, yet I still had never seen Streb. And, even though I live just a neighborhood away from her performance space S.L.A.M. (STREB Lab for Action Mechanics), it took an out-of-towner to finally drag me to see the latest performance, “Run Up Walls“, this past Saturday.

Elizabeth Streb began as a modern dancer, back in the 70’s. Her own style of dance movement began in 1975 and has evolved into what she calls, “PopAction.” (Streb has a new book out right now, “Streb: How to Become an Extreme Action Hero”, I haven’t read it yet so most of what I tell you here are the impressions from my post-coital streb-action virginity.)

Streb is now in her 60’s and has stopped throwing her self into walls. Nowadays her creative vision is executed by a team of young athlete-dancers who range in age from their 20’s into their 30’s (one performer even retired at the late age of 42.)

The performance is a complex fabric of choreographed vignettes. It’s part acrobatics, theater, modern dance, and performance art… no, extreme performance art. The dancers dive, spin, and slam through space as if their figures are solving complex physical equations. They dance on and slide across rotating disks, repel walls, duck under spinning I-beams in syncopation while missing potentially decapitating downbeats. Yes, there is real danger involved.

The ensemble troupe is equal part men and women, completely eradicating hierarchical distinctions of gender strength and ability. Men and women perform all actions equally and fluidly — beauty, strength and timing impeccably, heroically shared. 

Streb also has command of the visual arts, incorporating video and text imagery into her compositions. She said that drawing came naturally to her as a child, but felt more compelled by dance and movement. She composes on the two dimensional surface like a master draftsmen, images of bodies configured into arabesques appearing as both backdrop and prop. Did I mention a live DJ spins all the tunes too?

At one point there was video projection of an elephant jumping on a trampoline. Streb had me convinced (while the company I was with knew better) that this had actually been her pet elephant who she trained. A gigantic mammal gracefully rolling through the air as if it were cumulus cloud, in a pure expression of the potential buoyancy of our earth bound bodies… I think I came and fell in love in that moment.

At the end of the evening, when I had a chance to talk to Streb, she said she is still looking for the one movement which would sum up all of her movements. The one gesture which would contain everything. 

Isn’t that the wish of all artists? That all of their toiling can be summed up in one bold moment? I felt giddy. I told Streb that she was my new visual arts hero. I’d say she is a genius, but I really think she’s a master. When you leave the company of a master, you feel a sense of buoyancy.


“Run Up Walls” is at the Streb Lab, 51 N. First St. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn from April 16 – May 23. If you get the all ‘inclusive tickets’, after the performance Elizabeth Streb will send you flying on the S.L.A.M. trapeze.