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Death-defying dance: choreographer Elizabeth Streb talks about Go: Action Heroes, her latest fusion of danger, acrobatics, and art. (dance).

"My goal is to create noticeable action," says out choreographer Elizabeth Streb. Her intent is evident even in the names of the works included in her recent program Ripped: "Air Hurl," "Toss," "Air Impact," and "Catastrophic Realizer" don't exactly suggest a traditional evening at the ballet.

The winner of a 1997 MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, Streb pushes her dancers through boundaries that other choreographers wouldn't dare to cross. At her Joyce Theater engagement in New York, running May 28 through June 16, Streb will present Go: Action Heroes, her latest foray into a new world of time, space, and velocity. "This show cites my influences, like Evel Knievel, Houdini, and Annie Edson Taylor, who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel at age 61," says Streb. Performing on a special high-tech set, the dancers flip on multilevel trampolines, smash through plate glass, dodge 2-by-4s, and freefall onto mattresses 25 feet below.

Streb's dancers use the rhythms of their muscles--she calls it "pop action"--and breath as impetus for movement, rather than that "bossy phenomenon" known as music. "The bottoms of the feet are just one place to land," she says. "We land on our backs, stomachs, sides, shins, and shoulders." Certainly her dancers need a hefty helping of guts. "You can't move if you're afraid of getting hit, so we agree to get injured," she says. "But we respect our fear zones."

A native of Penfield, N.Y., Streb didn't start dancing until age 17 at the State University of New York at Brockport. She entered the dance field by default, she says, because "dance seemed like a good alchemy between movement and creation." Partly due to the aggressive nature of her choreography, she was reluctant in the early years of her career to come out publicly as a lesbian. "I didn't want people to say, `That's what dykes do,'" says Streb. But inspired by ACT UP, she came out in her mid 30s. "I became braver, because I saw phenomenal bravery all around me," she says of AIDS activists. Now 52, she's in a 10-year relationship with noted journalist-activist Laura Flanders.

Although her choreography is not overtly political, Streb believes that the groundbreaking nature of her work makes it so. "Formal breaking-the-code issues are at least as deeply political as somebody taking a subject and talking about it onstage," she argues. For example, she continues, "the fact that a female is willing to hurl her body into the air and ask other people to do that has huge import in terms of how our society is changing. And even now we have a country with only a few women in the Congress," she adds.

Streb's audiences are never ho-hum: Gasps of disbelief may replace applause. At a 1999 show at Theatre de la Ville, Parisians nearly rioted, as they had 86 years before at the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. "Half the audience was screaming out loud in French that this was not dance," she says. "The other half was telling those people to get the hell out and shut up."

Streb is quite clear about the artistic merit of her work. "We're telling a story about grace," she says. "We know what grace is: It's unabrupt transference from one condition to another. I'm telling the truth about movement."

Carman writes for The New York Times.
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Author:Carman, Joseph
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 28, 2002
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