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STREB Filene Center, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Vienna, Virginia September 6, 2003 Reviewed by George Jackson

Elizabeth Streb's twenty-five minutes of the evening-length centennial celebration of the Wright Brothers' first flight (Face of America 2003: A Celebration of Flight) differed from everything else on the program. Streb's work had its own form and feeling. The other items--fly-overs by prop and jet aircraft, the documentary flight movie On the Wings of a Dream, Jarvis W. George's acting in the role of a Tuskegee airman, and the gospel singing of The Fire Choir--were conventional, comfortably so. Streb's Wild Blue Yonder was experimental and brutal.

The choreographer (who calls herself an action architect) had divided the stage into four zones that she populated sequentially with her performers. Each space contained a different action-enabling instrument or object. One device, seemingly built of gargantuan Tinkertoy parts, was a crossbeam that could be raised or used for suspending things. Another instrument was that old favorite of acrobats and circus dancers, the trampoline. There was a swimming pool, not the deep, long, wide one of the late Leni Riefenstahl's Olympiad, but a shallow, narrow, toddler type. Also in Streb's collection was a rotating crane that could lift a body and fly it in a circle.

Rather than exploring various ways in which these instruments could be used, Streb focused intently on one type of action sequence for each. Her acrobat dancers, from two to seven of them, repeated a given sequence multiple times, like confirmatory runs in a scientific experiment. Yet there was variety within a set. In the circling crane sequence, performers on the floor dove after the flying body and then just ahead of it. The effects were quite different because the diving after gave the impression of chasing in vain, whereas the diving ahead was living dangerously--the diver, if not fast enough, could be hit by the flying body. Here, as elsewhere, timing was crucial and Streb used repetition and variation shrewdly to build audience expectation and then do the slightly unexpected.

What seems cruel in Streb's art is the raw force. One suspects that her goal in using the trampoline isn't to have humans fly. Flight is just a step to having them crash to the floor. When the performers put on hip hugging girdles that left the crotch free (so-called promiscuity belts), they weren't impelled to come together. Rather, due the rubberband action of bungee leashes that connect the girdles to the crossbeam construct, the girdle wearers were yanked apart after they had stretched the leashes. The toddler pool wasn't used for awesome dives like in Esther Williams's water ballets, but to splash the audience as the performers hit the water flat (protective covering was provided for customers sitting in range). No question, though, that Streb's performers master their collisions with such unyielding surfaces as the floor, shallow water and each other. Otherwise, the company's injury rate would be even greater than what appeared to be the two down at this event.
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Title Annotation:Wild Blue Yonder by Elizabeth Streb
Author:Jackson, George
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Previous Article:"Ay, Flamenco".
Next Article:Howard "Sandman" Sims.

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