She left this phosphorescent contrail of energy behind her
, said Nancy, remembering Elizabeth, young and dancing.
I have an interest in doing only real moves
, Elizabeth had said.
What's an unreal move?
, Nancy remembers asking.
Today, I know the answer to this question.
It only took me three decades, but I got here!
I read her book as we would read the Tao Te Ching
--as a book of philosophy
, says Nancy.
When I was about two years old,
I trapped a fly in a mason jar
, says Elizabeth.
Smudgy, wiggly, dirty things leaving smudges on the end of the jar.
I identified with that.
17, dance class, SUNY Brockport:
I was obsessed with extreme action,
which is what I thought that fly was doing.
Easy Rider. Off to San Francisco, motorcycle.
What content does movement hold that nothing else contains?
, Elizabeth asked herself.
A condition that establishes a forcefield...,
says the motion anthropologist, as she calls herself,
searching for what is true about action,
what everyone could respond to,
not just dance people.
I think dancers are holy people.
My dancers...they're spatial artists,
people who can take a hit.
It was important that you heard the sounds we made.
I'm looking for what is the rhythm of action.
In the dance world, we have not developed
a vocabulary for movement;
we've borrowed from the music world.
Space is not lateral or vertical.
It's incomprehensible, really.
Starting with questions like...
(and here, Trisha Brown is briefly invoked,
her and her dances from Atlantis).
Looking at dancers,
I wondered why
their base of support was always the soles of their feet,
why they were always upright
, says the action scientist.
There is some talk of dancers throwing up in the wings,
wiping their mouths,
coming back onstage for more.
In dance, they conceal the exaction of every moment
, says the writer.
Elizabeth reveals what this art form exacts.
What STREB does is really action,
, says the action hero.
I believe in virtuosity...
to do something that no one else has been able to do.
Excerpts from a conversation between dance critic Nancy Dalva and action architect Elizabeth Streb of Brooklyn's STREB Extreme Action Company on Leap Year Day, appropriately, at Barnard College
Nancy Dalva is amusing to listen to, an interviewer who brings her own irrepressible dramatics to the proceedings. As a result, you learn as much about her, really, as about the interviewee, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Watching Dalva and Streb work together--Streb staying very rooted and crystal clear--was quite interesting. I'd say they made an instructive team.
After the talk, I greeted and chatted with Dalva briefly, and she reminded me that passion is what keeps us all committed to this art. "If your heart isn't in it, you might as well pack it in," she said. If you heart isn't in it, there's nothing, we both agreed. And Streb, an exemplar, clearly has never backed down from giving her heart what it most wants.
I thought about Nancy's words again last night when I watched Mark Morris Dance Group at BAM Opera House. MMDG made its audience not just applaud but roar. They roarrr! for Four Saints in Three Acts (2000), Morris' vision of the Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein confection and for the singers and the dancers, his fantastic technicians, like perfect porcelain figurines come to life, deployed with precision, surprising intricacy and buoyancy. And there's Maira Kalman's warm, merry set design that would make anyone--saintly or otherwise--break into dance.
They roarrr! again at the end of A Choral Fantasy, where Morris applies his sharp ear and wily craft to Beethoven's Fantasia in C minor for Piano, Chorus and Ochestra, Op.80. There were moments in A Choral Fantasy that made me want to say, Wait. What exactly just happened? Can I see that again, please? There's that whirlpool, for instance, that suddenly forms in the middle of streaming lateral lines of dancing, disappears, then manifests again. I drew a rough sketch of this in my notebook, perhaps to be able to convince myself later that it actually did exist. The zippy slipperiness of Morris' arrangements and interactions of dancers can dazzle.
I have to admit, though--at risk of bringing wrath down upon my head--that I've yet to feel personally drawn to Morris' work. That's a matter of the heart, and I seem not to be able to do anything about it. Perhaps there are others who would not connect to the dance and performance that make my heart pound.
Mark Morris Dance Group continues tonight and tomorrow night with 7:30pm performances, likely sold out. Get information here.
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn