STREB (also pretty long)

Robert Wechsler (
Wed, 24 Dec 1997 17:31:20 +0100

Mark and all,

Thanks for your report, Mark.
i wish i could have seen her new work. (Its the thing i miss most about
having left new york!!!)

I am a long admirer of Streb'S work (I actually did some booking for her in
Europe some years back, and so have had contact with her in other ways).
The new work you descire raises to me an interesting isue

On the one hand _everyone_ enjoys spectacle: BIG, loud, fast, high-tech,
sci-fi, how-do-they-do-it, clever engineering, loud, bright, breath-taking,
In short, circus. In traditional circus there is a strong tradition of
theatricalizing ("ta-da!"). what is done, instead of simply doing, as the
act sufficient in itself, is heavily commented upon. the public is milked.
(Though there are also examples of wonderful circus performers who are quite
straight-forward in their work. little or not music, grand gestures etc. )
Streb says lets look at the event itself - with all the equipment,
situation, etc. designed into it - as art. (they are not, you know, not a
"dance company").

I think, it is however somewhat of a slippery slope for all of us working
with technology and calling it art. There is this tencency to get carried
away by oohs and aahs, if not ours, then though of the audience. we,
particularly "struggling" artists, want some popular success. And there are
these catchy things - certain kinds of music, big projections, so there is a
real tendency to .. dive in. they can carry us off so easily. and we want
people "with us" of course...
to raise some new issues
give an experience of a perspective to to our relationships to technologies
to construct new levels of inter-media interaction
to involve performers in evocative tasks
cause an evocative event
to involve the audience in a new way
to surprise us

such things as these
and are routinely overshadowed for the sake of a good "effect".

I mean, palindrome uses both projections and music -- i dont discount it, i
just try to see to whence it can take a performance.

And the danger looms larger the larger your budget. in europe where "state"
dance companies are incrediby well funded, the result is easy to see. So
many examples of works like Forsyths "loss of small detail", where the piece
has so much cool effects that any -- if there was any -- artistic
considerations are so overpowered, overwhelmed that in the end the public is
has to solve a kind of puzzle to try to re-trace where the choreographer
started: what s/he orignially intended before the equipment took over.

Sure its a dilemma because you NEED good, often expensive equipment do this
kind of work in the first place.

As you point out, Mark, she's real direct. Refreshing isnt it?
and Streb strikes me as pretty uncompromising -- a good candidate to make a
successful transition to higher-budget productions without loosing the
"personal" or "artistic" perspectives. The work i know of her's has kept a
pretty human face.

When you see the junk flying around europe though, i mean the decent
choreographers swept away, lost, to their new toys, hype and tech, then you
know only too well whats at stake.

Robert Wechsler

>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 |

Robert Wechsler and Helena Zwiauer Phone: (49) 911-397472
Palindrome Dance Company Fax: (49) 911-397472
Johannisstr. 42 / 90419 Nčrnberg