'Evel Knievel of dance' starts residency

L.A. Cicero Streb

The extremely physical choreographer Elizabeth Streb put Dance Division students through their paces in a master class that she led on Tuesday afternoon in Roble Gym. Streb, who has been dubbed the “Evel Knievel of dance,” will end her weeklong residency with two performances on Saturday, Jan. 24, in Memorial Auditorium, at 2:30 and 8 p.m.

Dangerous. Hard. Fast. Wild. Turbulent. Out of control.

Those are the words choreographer Elizabeth Streb has used to describe the "ideal move." The New York Times commented that her work is "about velocity, physical stamina and an unwillingness to bow to gravity without a fight."

For decades, Streb has blurred the boundaries between art and athletics, with an edginess that veers almost into violence. It's not an accident that her signature piece is called Crash. In Breakthru, dancers wear protective goggles as they dive through a plane of glass. Other moves include dancers swan-diving off 16-foot metal scaffolding and hurling themselves against walls.

She has described her work as an attempt to "destroy the tyranny of the floor." Others have called her works essays on the human body's interaction with Newton's laws.

Dubbed the "Evel Knievel of dance," Streb is coming to campus for a weeklong residency and performance with her New York company, STREB. The former MacArthur Fellow brings STREB's unique blend of dance, athletics, extreme sports and Hollywood stunt work to Stanford for two performances Saturday, Jan. 24, in Memorial Auditorium. Presented by Lively Arts in partnership with the Department of Athletics and the Stanford Dance Division, the first performance, a one-hour family matinee, starts at 2:30 p.m., and the second begins at 8 p.m. and will include 11 Stanford students.

It will be the first time non-company members perform Streb's Crash section from her 2006 dance presentation STREB vs. Gravity. The piece will be tailored to the talents and abilities of the Stanford participants.

The Stanford-STREB collaboration was developed by dance lecturer Diane Frank, the rehearsal director on this project, and women's gymnastics coach Kristen Smyth. Students performing are Sam Chiu, Liz Tricase, Lauren Elmore, Lenika De Simone, Aimee Precourt Rolston, Liz Schackmann, Lauri Anderson, Brittiany Broadwater, Justine Grayman, Linda Phung and Zach D'Angelo. Tricase, Elmore, De Simone and Rolston are from the gymnastics program; the others are student dancers with strong gymnastics backgrounds.

Streb has been choreographing works since 1975. She studied math, physics and philosophy as a Dean's Special Scholar at New York University to get a better understanding of the effects of movement on matter.

"I soon discovered that traditional dance was deeply married to music, borrowing its compositional forms rather than playing by its own rules," she said in an interview with choreographer Garry Reigenborn in 2003. Hence, Streb's work is virtually soundless, except for the amplified sounds of dancers' grunts, thwacks and crashes; the manipulation of sound, with microphones attached to various surfaces the dancers leap, bounce and spring from, acts as an aural dramatization of collision. A STREB stage is likely to have custom-made trapezes, trusses, trampolines and a flying machine.

"With infinity out there, there are endless versions of how to fly," Streb said in the 2003 interview. "It mostly means how you're going to get off the ground. Staying on the ground is only a two-dimensional place to be. There are certainly at least four dimensions if you count time, so why do people still ignore those other dimensions in the art of dance? I'm disappointed that we humans can't fly yet."

STREB's Jan. 19-24 residency includes several other events that are open to the public:

Thursday, Jan. 22—STREB dance master class. Company members will lead a master class for Stanford Dance Division students. 4:15 p.m. at Roble Gym. The public is welcome to attend as observers in the dance studio balcony. E-mail dfrank1@stanford.edu to participate.

Thursday, Jan. 22—"Elizabeth Streb: How to Look at Modern Dance." Streb in conversation with Peggy Phelan, chair of the Department of Drama. 6:30 p.m. at the Cantor Arts Center Auditorium.

Thursday, Jan. 22Crash preview at gymnastics meet. At the first winter home meet of the Stanford women's gymnastics team, the students participating in the STREB production will give a preview of the work to be performed at Memorial Auditorium. 6:45 p.m. in Burnham Pavilion.

Friday, Jan. 23—Open rehearsal and stage tour. Streb leads a short tour of the elaborate stage set for STREB vs. Gravity prior to the company's open rehearsal. 1:30-3 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. evening performance of STREB vs. Gravity are $10 for Stanford students, and $25 to $60 for others. Tickets for the family matinee at 2:30 p.m. are $7.50 to $24 for Stanford students, and $15 to $48 for others.

Half-price tickets also are available for young people ages 18 and under, and discounts are available for groups and non-Stanford students. For tickets, contact the Stanford Ticket Office at 725-2787 or visit http://livelyarts.stanford.edu.