Streb dancers kiss the air, crash to the ground

December 23, 2011 • Entertainment

This image courtesy of Stephanie Berger shows STREB Extreme Action performing “Kiss the Air!,” in New York. “Kiss the Air!” incorporates ziplines, ladders, trampolines, hoops, and bungee cords. (AP Photo/Stephanie Berger)

NEW YORK (AP) — There sure is a lot of cool stuff going on in “Kiss the Air,” the latest effort from choreographer Elizabeth Streb. Dancers hang from spinning ladders, twirl in harnesses, splash into pools, crash into each other with yelps, and (gulp) belly-flop to the ground from ledges high enough to make you sick.

But is it dance? An intriguing question, one it’s probably not best to spend much time on.

Very occasionally, the dancers from the Brooklyn-based STREB Extreme Action, now performing at the Park Avenue Armory, will point a toe or strike a dancelike pose. Mostly, though, they’re [auth] daring acrobats, tumblers and gymnasts, who approach their tasks with a warriorlike zeal. “Dancers, to your stations!” commanders call out.

Which is fine — you were maybe expecting “The Nutcracker”? It’s an entertaining evening, though somewhat exhausting, occasionally a bit repetitive and certainly nerve-racking — especially in the “Human Fountain” sequence where dancers hurl themselves off metal scaffolding. In groups and individually, they plummet to the ground from three ledges, again and again.

They land on foam padding, but still, one hopes they have decent health insurance.

At a recent performance, the younger audience members (it’s a great show for kids) seemed most interested in the water sequence, in which two very strong male dancers, hooked up to harnesses, swooped down into the water and back up again, making huge splashes along the way. (Front-row viewers were given rain ponchos.)

They also loved the zip lines that propelled the dancers rapidly through the Armory’s cavernous space, with each dancer finally slamming (and we do mean slamming) into a foam pad.

It’s delightful to see the Armory make full use of its space for dance productions. Earlier this season, it hosted the Shen Wei company; next week the Merce Cunningham company holds its final performances there. And last summer, the Armory was the site of a hugely ambitious, successful run of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which built a replica of its own theater in the space.

The Streb company seems particularly well suited to such a space, and the dancers seem exhilarated to being showing their stuff, often calling out to the audience for vocal support. “How’s my section?” shouted one dancer as he prepared to harness up for an aerial act. Our section whooped and hollered encouragement.

That’s another added bonus of the Streb show: Noise is not only allowed but encouraged. At the outset, a taped announcement asked that cell phones be turned off. Then a STREB announcer came on with his microphone, and told the crowd to ignore all that. Feel free to take photos, videos, tweet and otherwise document the show, he said.

The dancers are clothed futuristically, in red unitards that resemble superheroes. And the superhero theme is fully embraced.

“I’m Superman” one dancer called out during the water sequence. “Spider-Man!” ”Houdini!”

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it sure will get your heart rate up.

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