“The highs were so high, I’m still coming down” Fabio, one of Elizabeth Streb’s dancers, said in recounting their monumental performance of “Human Eye” in London. In this amazing event that was part of a series of shows in London called One Extraordinary Day, the dancers were strapped to a Ferris Wheel and executed their performance in the air, 400 feet above ground.
Streb’s mind-blowing work is something that speaks for itself, but hearing her and her dancers talk about it reveals a whole new layer of courage, talent, passion and fear. It’s extraordinary how as a viewer, when looking at Streb’s work, I could almost feel the blows, the falls and the hits that the dancers performed. Hearing Streb talk about the human body, referring to its ability to ‘carve the air’ and changing its relationship with its surroundings, you begin to re-evaluate the nature of your own body in the world. Listening to the dancers speak of their experience of this extreme performance gave me a sense of what it must take to become a part of Streb’s vision. They speak of immense fear and worry, but also excitement, energy and the feeling of invincibility.
I was also very impressed with Streb’s personal relationship with her dancers. At the London performance One Extraordinary Day, as the STREB Action Heroes climbed towards the sky far above the safety of the ground, Streb’s eyes followed them. She accompanied them; she was scared with them; and she was excited with them. As a viewer, I could not help but wait at the edge of my seat to experience what would happen next. In this kind of work, the dancers are the flesh of the art piece. And as the art and the artist climbed up that ferris wheel, I felt myself climbing with them, holding on to the cold metal, covered in safety straps and experiencing how the wind feels that high up. Unencumbered by crowds, trees and the busyness at ground level.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about the movie was the fact that the human aspect was very much explored. The dancers who compose Streb’s action pieces are interviewed and provide a deeper understanding to all of the complex layers and the hard work that Streb’s pieces need in order to be executed. To me that was one of the most interesting parts, that the film would be able to switch back and forth from the private world of the people who embody the work, to the broader vision of Streb’s thinking process and overall direction.
When Streb started her career as a dancer she pushed her body to its limits even at the expense of her health. Now she needs to direct others to follow her footsteps that require physical risk, emotional strength and determination made of steel. I loved seeing how Streb deals with those complicated and personal relationships. Her overpowering vision of dance, the human compositions that via performance investigate the different aspects of what it means to be a moving mass of flesh; this with the fact that her art is made of people for whom she cares for and worries about.
It is only natural to feel out of your comfort zone with Streb’s work. It is meant to pull you out of the common perception of yourself, to wheel you in and expose you to a world of flying people, spinning bodies and dancers far above your head.