STREB (long)

Mark Coniglio (
Tue, 23 Dec 1997 09:24:57 -0500

Dawn and I had the pleasure of seeing Elizabeth Streb at the Joyce Theater
this last week. I am not a reviewer, but I wanted to report a bit about
what I saw, because it is interesting to see how technology plays an
important part of her work.

Hopefully most of you know Ms. Streb's work. But, if I may be so bold as to
summarize for the uninitiated, her movement is less about what we might
traditionally call "dance" and more about the realm of "acrobatics". The
thing that makes it _not_ acrobatics is that she has created quite a
sophisticated and specific movement vocabulary within this sphere. The
dancers fall, jump, fly through the air, and otherwise take their bodies to
extremes throughout the course of the performance. This spectacle is
thrilling on the simple level of the perceived danger of the movement,
which feels high. My description of her movement here seems inadequate, so
perhaps others will fill in.

What I primarily wanted to write about for this list was the use of
theatrical technology as an important part of the performance. Let me start
by describing the set.

It is a gigantic system of trusses that form a "box" around the performing
area, perhaps 40 feet (13 m) across and 20 feet (6.5 m) high. The entire
ceiling area of this space can be raised or lowered vertically by winches
inside the structure, and various parts of the structure can be moved in or
our of place depeneding on which piece is being performed. When the
audience enters the theater, the "floor" that later forms the front of the
performing area has been raised, and part of the "ceiling" hinge in such a
way that the whole of the proscenium is a solid yellow wall. When the first
piece begins, there is a loud groan as another set of winches move these
two parts into their rightful place. The composer has put microphones on
all of the large motors so that their sounds are amplified. There are light
sources mounted throughout the device, consisting not of standard
theaterical lighting, but instead of mercury-vapor street lamps, and long
flourescent tubes.

What I found compelling about this set is that it was decidedly
"anti-theater." This was only emphasized by placing it under the proscenium
arch of the Joyce. Like Ms. Streb's dance, the set was purely functional
and not about providing an illusiory or narrative framework. The set there
to provide an environment for the execution of the movement. The lighting
was not beautiful, but decidely harsh and pedestrian. For myself, I could
tend to read into this a kind of poetic relationship between machine (the
set) and wo/man (the performers) but I have a feeling it has much more to
do with my own predilictions. I will however say that there set, with its
size and sound, has a feeling of spectacle that resonates more with the
circus than the theater. Certainly that fits in with the kind of
"acrobatic" movement that Ms. Streb creates.

What strikes me about her dance is the purity of concept: it is about
executing movement through space with precision and risk. Again, I would
tend to say that the body becomes a machine that must execute the
desiginated program. But even that may have more narrative to it than she
would intend. It is interesting to note that the pieces don't really follow
the beginning-middle-end arc, but instead simply begin and end with in a
seemingly arbitrary fashion.

I already mentioned the amplification of the motors in the set, but there
were also an array of contact microphones on many of its surfaces. So it is
the impact of the dancer's bodies with the floor, wall, or ceiling produces
sound. Unlike some of the work that I have done with sensors, where impact
is translated to MIDI which is translated to synthesized or sampled sound,
most of the sound here is acoustic, i.e., is the ampified sound of the
contact microphones. This reinforces the lack of implied narrative that can
come with musical timbres or melodic combinations. It is a magnified
version of the sound of impact. Apparently there was some interactive
triggering in the final piece, but those sounds were samples of impact with
various surfaces.

Finally, I wanted to mention the video. Dennis Diamond, who I believe is on
this list, mounted cameras in the set itself, to allow the audience
simultaneous access to a radically different view of the movement. The
projections were put to the upper left and right parts of the set. One
could argue that Ms. Streb's work puts the body of the performer into a
kind of overload, and I can see the video as an attempt to impose this
overload on the viewer. But I must say that I didn't think the video images
were given enough prominence, and were sometimes washed out a bit by the
lighting. Dennis, if you are listening, can you tell us more how you felt
about the results of your work and the way it was used in the set? How did
you feel about the relationship of image to performer?

So there is a bit of rambling. Reactions?


Mark Coniglio, Artistic Co-Director |
Troika Ranch |