Kinetic energy of "Streb: Forces" invigorates Benedum
Loud cheering and applause broke out repeatedly Friday night at the Benedum Theater when Pittsburgh Dance Council opened its season by presenting “Streb: Forces.”
The language of Elizabeth Streb's “extreme action” ensemble is closer to stunt work and gymnastics than dance. She wields that physicality with a keen sense of theatricality combined with a conceptual clarity that enjoys the physics of movement.
The show's spirit was established by DJ MC Zaire Baptiste's introduction. He shouted into a microphone with the volume jacked up that the audience should ignore the usual warning that recording and photography were forbidden, and encouraged everyone to make a lot of noise.
Streb's method in the dozen sections of “Forces” is to concentrate on the essentials of one kind of movement. Her nine “action engineers” began with “Shake,” responding with increasing intensity to the loud vibrations coming from the sound system.
“Impact” played off a large clear plastic sheet attached to a high metal frame. The performers threw themselves at the sheet or kicked off it, each impact marked by video game-type sound effects provided by the DJ. Elaborations that included a transfer-of-energy bit, where the plastic sheet was kicked from one side and a performer on the other side of the sheet recoiled sharply.
The most frequently employed move throughout the evening was leaping to a flat fall, arms and legs extended, on a pad on the stage floor. Sometimes the performers leaped on top of each other.
Streb spoke on video about her ideas before many of the pieces, including the effect of falling 30 feet, or even higher, from the 11th floor of a building. This was a prelude to leaps from increasing height, up to one from 25 or 30 feet. Yes, there were gasps from members of the audience.
Each half of the show closed with machines that generated strong centrifugal force. “Artificial Gravity” was performed on a large circular spinning platform that could move independently from a smaller circle at its center. Sometimes the circles moved in opposite directions, even at high speed.
“Invisible Forces” was performed on a device with a circular section on one side of its axis and balancing frames on the other side. Both pieces featured inventive elaborations.
The performers were true daredevils. The feeling of risk was overwhelmed by adrenaline and, above all, a sense of having fun.