STREB’s Blowout Action Maverick Night

May 6, 2010

Elizabeth Streb and Philippe Petit, together on a high wire (well, a low high-wire), were a giddy sight for the crowd at the STREB Action Maverick Award Benefit last night. She, behind him with hands lightly on his shoulders; he so mischievous that I expected him to break into a waltz. But they made it across.

This was a benefit to acknowledge the whole idea of Streb’s Action Maverick Award. Philippe Petit was the first recipient five years ago, and he is the one who designed the low-high-wire unveiled last night. Each year Elizabeth gives the award “in honor of those heroes of movement who’ve blazed trails.”

This year the award went to Trisha Brown (I was there to give a brief tribute to Trisha). Honestly, I hadn’t realized how related Streb and Trisha are artistically. Though Elizabeth never danced with Trisha, she told me last night that she couldn’t have done what she did if Trisha hadn’t done what she did. So, this far into her career, she is really claiming Trisha as an influence. And, as she said in her remarks, everyone in this postmodern dance world has been influenced by her.

After a hilarious auction run by Kate Clinton, brilliant Trisha-inspired poetry by Anne Carson, and two miraculous songs by Meredith Monk, the STREB Extreme Action Company performed. The very first view of them threw me back to 1971, when Trisha’s dancers walked on the walls of the Whitney Museum. You saw the crowns of their heads above their feet as though you were high up, looking down on a sidewalk. Streb had given her company coat-hanger-type contraptions to allow them to walk on the wall, perpendicular to it—just as Trisha had done at the Whitney. But Streb builds from where Trisha left off. (Trisha hasn’t done her “equipment pieces” in years.) The dancers swan-dived out toward us with open chests; they drifted and settled their feet on another’s shoulders, and sprang off from them. It was kinetically, optically mesmerizing.


I used to think of Trisha and Elizabeth as such different artists. Twenty years ago, Streb’s work was so hard-nosed, so much about a certain kind of aggression, about the charge you get from seeing someone almost self-destruct. But now it seems to be about invention, illusion, and metaphor. Watching her dancers last night, I saw freedom, not aggression; I saw a sensitive interdependence and beautiful, billowing bodies. Flying bodies. (Therein lies the parallel with Trisha.) I feel like Streb has evolved from dance to sport and now back to dance again.

A special moment of clarity—I mean the clarity of how things can be repurposed by imaginative minds—came when Trisha received the award from Elizabeth. Taking the strange, V-like object in her hands and looking at it, she suddenly put it to her ear and said, “Hello.”