The late Bob Fosse invoked someone at the 1987 Tony Awards presentation, the year that he died at 60, as he introduced Gwen Verdon, still his wife, co-parent and longest-running muse and collaborator. As he phrased it, “It’s been said that the art of choreography is only 50% conception. And that the real test of your talent is getting five or six or however number of people in a room who are just a little crazier than you are and who can try to live out that, ah, that thing in your head. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, you can find someone who dances it better than you ever dreamed it.”
The very present Elizabeth Streb, now 72, dreamed it, yes, and in many cases also danced it herself when first introduced. But as the evolving “Time Machine” program reveals, she has been very lucky indeed for some time and remains so.
The present company, billed as Action Heroes although I’ve heard Streb refer to them as dancers in rehearsal, retains only Co-Artistic Director Cassandre Joseph-Donnelly and Senior Action Hero Jackie Carlson from among the seasoned cast of eight who premiered the first iteration of this “Streb’s greatest hits” compendium on the outdoor stage at Jacob’s Pillow in mid-August, 2021. This pair may have been in grade school or younger when Fosse spoke. They almost certainly had not been born when Streb first performed Pole Vault and 7’43” in 1978, the oldest two pieces (billed Action Events) on the program that the Dancing Matters (DM) group took in on Saturday, March 25; the second show of “Time Machine’s” nine week run in the company’s home season in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I doubt that Streb could have dreamed of two more crazily accomplished and dedicated people to dance it any better.
Visual description: Jackie Carlson, a pale skinned dancer (she/he/they) with a bright blonde fade haircut, black tank top with a large white and red Streb Action Hero “S” on the front, white Streb leggings printed in black and orange, and an orange stirrup wrap on her right ankle leans forward on her tippy toes against a 4 foot long closet dowel, spiral wrapped in yellow and dark green , balancing against their navel and the bare orange floor of SLAM. Behind him, in front of a cinder block wall, square open-latticed black metal apparatus legs frame a pattern of red, yellow, blue, white and smaller black squares surrounding 4 rectangular video screens. Thick red mats cover an adjacent part of the floor in front of a member of the tech crew behind a red console.
Joseph-Donnelly and Carlson have been with the company since 2007 and 2008 respectively. They lead an equally committed group listed as three other core company members, each of whom took on a solo in this program, alongside five other Action Heroes, at least three of whom joined the troupe in 2022. You could’ve fooled me.
In a former avocation as a jayvee college hockey player, heads-up team play meant everything to me when bladed sticks, hard rubber frozen disks and sharpened skates would be involved at maximum speed. The Action Heroes have many more objects of concern keeping them in sync and focused. They also seem to have had better practices than we did.
I like to roam whenever I can while taking in a performance, constantly seeking out the best angle with which to see the whole bodies of performers, including feet, as well as the audience in its moods and reactions. In this, the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics (SLAM) layout, in what had been an industrial loading facility, proved most accommodating. The sometimes bemused smiles and rapt attention I observed from the crowd, including those of not only my Dancing Matters colleagues but also that of a girl of no more than four in the first row on an adult woman’s lap, presaged the highly positive observations and occasional wonderment that characterized the DM post-performance discussion over bites and sips at the nearby Williamsburg Market.
Visual description: Jackie Carlson, a pale skinned dancer (she/he/they) with a bright blonde fade haircut, wearing a black tank top, white Streb leggings printed in black and orange, hangs horizontally at a slight diagonal, pointed toes up and head lifted at the neck toward 3 other similarly clad mixed race Streb Action heroes. Their feet just off the red mat over which s/he hangs in a bungee hip harness, the 3 other Heroes grasp her arms and pull her toward the audience directly behind them. About a dozen young children sit on the floor in the front row, some being protected by a brown skinned young man in black who reaches across them with his right arm to shield them while confetti fills the air, adults behind them smile and three of the adults hold up their cell phone cameras. screens. A white 12 foot wall stands behind the audience reaching part way to the ceiling while another Action Hero, a yellow “S” on his long sleeved t-shirt above yellow leggings and his face obscured holds an apparatus controller at the end of a yellow power cord.
The show reminded one member of a visual artist’s retrospective. Another compared the program to an evening of cinema short subjects. The group discussed another member’s irritation at the way the Action Heroes off the playing area would vocally encourage one another, particularly during solos. Having represented a fairly chirpy bench presence during hockey games, these interjections sounded refreshingly familiar to me.
The ”Time Machine” series continues Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, through May 21st, at the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics (SLAM) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Action Hero rehearsals there remain free and open to the public in keeping with the Streb Extreme Action tradition of opening SLAM to the entire community to the maximum extent practicable.