Photo by Ralph Alswang

In The Studio: Elizabeth Streb Is Interested in More Than Danger

Although she constantly pushes the level of risk in her work, Streb Extreme Action Company artistic director Elizabeth Streb surprisingly looks for more than just a passion for physicality when recruiting dancers action heroes. We went to S.L.A.M (Streb Lab for Action Mechanics) to get an inside look at a rehearsal, and quickly learned that though she may have an addiction to danger, Streb isn't quite as tough as she seems.

A sense of teamwork is really clear amongst your dancers when they are working. How is that something you have tried to instill in your company environment?

You have to be a team in this work or you are in big trouble. It certainly wasn't like that in the beginning. So this was an end game for a very incremental process. I figured out how to have people who love people in the room. It's a very pacific concept but it's a humane concept. And as we went along we realized it's our job to be socially kind and interested in anyone who walks in the room.

Speaking of which, your rehearsals are all open to the public. Is that something you have always been interested in doing?

When we moved from the Canal Street studio to garages in Williamsburg they were all on the ground floor, so we started practicing what it meant to invite the community in and let people who walk by and don't know Streb come in and be interested in watching us. And that's changed my set of questions and has changed who I'd like our public to be.

Photo by Teresa Wood

The level of risk in your work heightens each year. How do you visualize that risk in the beginning stages of a new work?

There's this great quote from Tim Cahill that says "the explorer is the person who is lost," so I don't pretend to know what I'm doing. I have an idea—is it the spinning ladder idea? Is it the high speed windshield idea? In any of those circumstances where we try to create a sense on unfamiliarity in the space, I don't really pre-amp ideas. If I know before I see it then it's happened before.

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July 2021