Extreme Action dancers toy with physics in performance

Last Thursday, the Streb Extreme Action dance company presented its show, Forces, on the MainStage of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance.

Streb
The dancers of the Streb company demonstrate their gravity-defying choreography before the expectant MainStage crowd.

The Brooklyn-based group wowed the audience with daring feats of strength, timing and flexibility as it used the laws of physics as tools for movement. Given that Forces was a highly anticipated event around campus, it was unsurprising that the MainStage was nearly completely sold out, with many  students and Williamstown residents still hoping for tickets the night of the show.

From the very beginning, it was made clear that this was no ordinary dance performance. As the audience got settled in, short videos projected on stage introducing each dancer, giving information on their hometowns and dance experience. The videos helped to personalize each performer, fostering an intimate feeling even in such a large performance space; they lent audience members a point of connection to the seemingly distant dancers. In an interesting twist, the announcer proclaimed that the audience was allowed, and in fact encouraged, to take pictures and record videos of the performance. Though this may seem like a strange thing to do at a relatively formal performance, in the age of YouTube the dance company can benefit greatly from the free publicity. In fact, camera-friendly would be an understatement of Streb’s vibe; in a true visual spectacle, the dancers wore brightly-colored spandex costumes that allowed them to move completely freely, and the dances were set to loud, mostly electronic music.

The nearly two-hour production consisted of 13 individually named dances, each with unique props and choreography. The show was also punctuated by a 15-minute intermission after the first six dances.

In “Shake,” the first dance, the dancers simply vibrated and convulsed their bodies while standing in a straight line until a bowling ball fell seemingly from the ceiling onto a large cinderblock. This dramatic start to the show was only a taste of the amazing dancing that followed. In “Impact,” a significantly longer piece, the dancers hurled themselves onto a clear plastic board, posing as they hit for dramatic effect. As time passed, the choreography became increasingly complicated, with the performers using each other’s body weight to execute moves, like appearing to slide down the perfectly upright board. Another memorable piece was “Fall,” in which the dancers climbed up onto a slowly rising beam, only to jump off onto a mattress that had been set up on stage. In the final moments, the beam was so high that the audience could not see the dancer’s upper body, as she was elevated beyond the curtains. This piece once again broke down the fourth wall, as an announcer called on the audience to encourage the dancer to jump.

Later on, the drama continued with “Writhe,” in which the audience viewed one lone performer seemingly trapped in a box suspended high above the stage. She appeared to be struggling to get out of the box, yet her movements were also graceful and deliberate. The performance ended with the dancer falling out of the box onto a mattress on stage.

Appropriately, the final dance, “Invisible Forces,” was perhaps the most dramatic of all. It featured an enormous pendulum-like structure swinging as dancers leapt on and off of it. There was a large circular space in which one dancer could walk, jump and tumble, much like a hamster wheel. The dancers would toy with the distribution of weight in order to make the pendulum swing faster or slower, and would often leap off in a dramatic fashion as the pendulum reached its highest point. The entire performance was absolutely spellbinding, and kept audience members mesmerized throughout.

After every few dances, the audience would see short videos of the company’s founder, Elizabeth Streb, in an interview setting, discussing the nature of her dances and the importance of her work. More than a choreographer, Streb considers herself to be an “action architect.” She constantly tries to push boundaries, and looks for “where [she] hasn’t been spatially.” Fascinated by movement, she proclaimed that there is “nothing more complex than walking.” Again, these videos broke down the barrier between the show and the audience, allowing them to get a better idea of what exactly they were seeing and how best to understand it. Through these videos, it became clear that the performance on stage was more than dance – it was a study of movement, gravity, flight and weight. It serves as a sign of good things to come this year at the ’62 Center.