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Elizabeth Streb performs Trisha Brown

Elizabeth Streb performs “Man Walking Down Side of Building” by Trisha Brown from UVaid on Vimeo.

On Sunday, October 4, 2010 at 1:30, Streb walked down the outside of the Whitney Museum of Art, a piece that Trisha Brown originally choreographed in 1970. Soundtrack added by me is Le Tigre doing “They Want Us to Make A Symphony Out of The Sound of Women Swallowing Their Own Tongues”

Elizabeth Streb is an astonishing choreographer whose work is a challenge to the idea of dance, performance, audience and spectacle. She creates work that places her at odds with so many traditions in modern and even experimental dance — there is often no narrative, the movements blend and bend every tradition and emerge her own, for years she loathed the idea of music as an accompaniment to the movement (she has now incorporated it), and the danger in her pieces is real. Watching the dancers leap under, around, between and beside moving concrete blocks is scary. Watching them jump off high points in the stage to mats on the ground and get up lightly, or running full tilt into fiberglass walls, or smashing through glass head first, or running a huge hamster wheel (that always makes me feel the claustrophobia of every office I have ever worked in) is exhilarating.

Streb is an original theorist as well as creator of dance. Her new book, How To Become an Extreme Action Hero (Feminist Press, 2010) is fantastic and filled with challenges to the ordinary ways we think of movement. Her company Streb ( not only performs the mesmerizing pieces she creates, but serves as a unique neighborhood institution in Williamsburg — a cross between a community arts movement space for kids and adults and a hub of cultural activism.

So I had to go see her perform the work of one of her idols, Trisha Brown, whom she credits as an artist who inspired her to push beyond the basics. Brown choreographed and did the piece in 1970. Here is a photo of her performing it in 1971 from her web site. trisha_brown_event_image_400

Elizabeth walked down the outside wall of the Whitney Museum three times last weekend, this video is from the performance at 1:30 on Sunday the 4th of October. It was scary, like all of Elizabeth’s performances seem to be! The backlight and a cheap phone camera make the quality less evocative than being there but it gives you a sense. The whole performance (from when she is lowered perpendicular to the ground, to when she lands on the ground lasted less than 2 and half minutes, but felt so much longer!

If I had kept the sounds from the audience, it would have been gasps and oohs and held breaths. I added Le Tigre’s looped song about third wave feminism because it struck me that the piece is a metaphor for feminism today. Stuck, seems futile, unable to break free of the gravity of patriarchy, tongue-tied, yet brave and constrained all at once. I’m not sure Brown or Streb would want or agree with that interpretation, but I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about the ruts and traps that feminism in the US has created for itself, and have been trying to write about it (more to come when I get there).

Please go see Streb’s company in Brooklyn. She is a remarkable, unique, and totally original artist.

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