Elizabeth Streb creates choreography of Olympic proportions – dancers climbing up walls, flying through the air, and generally testing the limits of the human body.
This month, her Williamsburg-based dance company, STREB, gets the recognition it deserves,as it participates in the Cultural Olympiad, a two-month long festival of music, theater, visual arts, dance and digital programming during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“I first met Elizabeth about 20 years ago. I saw the work she was doing at Joyce, and it was just the most extraordinary production,” said Wende Cartwright, Director of Performing Arts for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. “As soon as I was hired (for the Cultural Olympiad), I was most interested in working with her.”
STREB’s eight-person troupe kicks off the Olympics’ 60 days of arts programming on Jan. 22, with three days of shows, and is one of 36 international acts participating in the Olympics, joining fellow New York City-based artists such as Laurie Anderson, who’s premiering a new piece, “Delusion,” and Hal Willner, who’s producing a Neil Young tribute.
Streb affectionately calls her dancers “extreme action heroes” for their physical feats, which include climbing up walls, dodging swinging cinder blocks and, thanks to the Whizzing Gizmo, a Wheel of Death-like spinning contraption, flying through the air.
“We don’t have Olympic metrics, no way to find the ultimate STREB dancer ever,” said Streb, though there are similarities between her dancers and athletes who compete in the Olympics – the loneliness of training, setting personal goals, and going beyond the human body’s supposed limits. “We feel we’re close to these achievements,” said Streb. “The skill is pretty eccentric and fabulous. It requires a lot of bravery.”
Cartwright, who sees “Raw,” the piece the company created for the Olympics, as a “greatest hits” of Streb’s contemporary choreography, would agree.
“If the dancers weren’t dancing, they would be Olympic athletes,” said Cartwright. “They’re that brilliant and in that kind of shape – the finest shape you could ever see anybody in. (Streb’s) work, from my perspective, is a real tribute to the capacity of the human body. She can prove that humans can fly and fall from great heights and take great risk.”
For STREB dancer Cassandra Joseph, a Flatbush native who recently moved to Bedford-Stuyvestant, going to the Olympics is a dream come true.
“The Olympics is that Mecca,” said Joseph, who before joining STREB trained as a gymnast. “I did dream of going to the Olympics. I got there somehow.”
STREB is located at 51 N. 1st St. The company will continue to tour after the Cultural Olympiad, returning in the spring. For more information on their upcoming shows, as well as classes, go to, go to www.streb.org or call 718-384-6491.
For more information on the Vancouver Winter Olympics and the Cultural Olympiad, as well as to view webcasts of some of the programming, go to www.vancouver2010.com/cultural-festivals-and-events.