May 19, 2014
If, perchance, you end up at SLAM not knowing what goes on there, you might fancy the venue as an elaborate theatre where screenings of historic monster truck rallies show while cage matches play out live for those who prefer their carnage with a pulse. Vapors of fresh popcorn waft up spiral staircases down which muscly individuals rush in spandex. You might worry you missed the memo for a costume party until, upon taking your seat, you see them warming up before huge projections giving us a rundown of who these people are. One came from Dance Theatre of Harlem, another was in Cats, but amidst disparate backgrounds, they are here to put on FORCES, Elizabeth Streb’s latest unlocking of bodily potential through her evenhanded mastery of art and science.
Each of the ten segments is a highly developed study of human interaction with force. Streb eases us in examining the ways one can compliment a plexiglass wall. The company first takes turns ramming into it face-first like deranged birds, gradually sophisticating into dancers dangling off it like tangled Christmas ornaments in architectural counterbalances. Later, the floor spins in concentric circles, allowing navigation of centripetal force into impossible free-standing balances and multi-dimensional spatial patterns traveling through the speed difference between circles.
Other shorts meet deadly encounters with nonchalance. Jackie Carlson and Samantha Jakus play spin-the-200-pound-I-beam, counting their accelerating slaps as if at a slumber party. It goes on to be used as medieval limbo stick by Daniel Rysak who, lying below it, lifts his head, torso, pelvis, and entire body between spins, narrowly avoiding decapitation. “Fly” could double as a post-apocalyptic rendering of Peter Pan. Carlson is secured in a giant double skewer that spins while the contraption as a whole rotates in space, knocking down other dancers strategically placed in headstands. At one point she is upside down, connected by the scalp to one of the lost boys in a slow promenade – a calm beauty evoked on monstrous machinery.
One of Streb’s earliest works – “Escape” – has Felix Hess channeling David Blaine in a dance confined to a rectangular space lit coldly by flickering fluorescent light. Hess plays a tumultuous game of twister, slamming body parts on walls in contorted configurations as he howls. His eyes never reduce their wide-set terror, even as he scoots on his head in a fetal ball. While simply a formal exploration of what the body can do in a cruelly limited space, the pathos rendered by those few minutes of struggle until he dives head-first and backwards into black is heartrending.
Equipment pieces show the human/machine partnership as symbiotic. The last piece, “Rocket,” contains no slamming whatsoever. On a large yellow structure resembling an abstracted ice cream cone, Cassandre Joseph softly runs, leaps, and flips in a circular structure that keeps the whole device spinning. Her colleagues watch, beguiled, and add themselves to the picture. The arrangement of pieces outlines a journey – bodies with that which governs their movement – from chaos to altruism.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews