STREB Extreme Action combines virtuosity and technical skill with openhearted popular appeal. Founded in New York City in 1979 by choreographer Elizabeth Streb, the company has traveled widely and evolved artistically over the past 40 years. We recently spoke with Christine Chen, the company’s Executive Director. The organization is based in Brooklyn and you can watch their videos on nyxt.nyc/streb.
When STREB was created, what were the organization’s inspirations?
CC: Elizabeth Streb founded the company in 1979 to create work that pushed the boundaries of dance. In 2003, she founded SLAM, the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn which has provided a home for the company to rehearse and present work locally before we tour; it houses our educational programming including a flying trapeze school and serves many aerial artists who are able to make use of our high ceilings and rigging to create their own work. Our ethos with SLAM has been to create an open lab for the public to observe and participate in the creative process. Before we had to close due to the Coronavirus, our doors were always open for open rehearsals and public classes and performances.
How is STREB's team composed nowadays?
CC: Elizabeth is the choreographer and artistic director - her artistic vision leads everything we do. Cassandre Joseph is our associate artistic director and she leads our team of 9 dancers, as well as overseeing the educational curriculum. I lead the operations and administration with a great team of 8. The company collaborates regularly with other artists - from set, scenic, sound, and lighting design, to composers, librettists, and more. Zaire Baptiste, our emcee, and DJ brings everything together and is a performer as well as our technical director.
Christine Chen returned to STREB as the organization’s Executive Director in August 2019. She re-joined STREB most recently from the 92nd Street Y, where she served as Director of Strategic Programming, overseeing the Adult Education and Dance departments, as well as new strategic programming initiatives. Prior to joining 92Y in 2014, Christine served as Executive Director of American Repertory Ballet and Princeton Ballet School. Highlights from her previous professional dance career include performing as an Action Hero with the STREB Extreme Action Company from 2004-2007; dancing with AXIS Dance Company in works by Bill T. Jones and Stephen Petronio at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics; and dancing while dangling off multi-story buildings and industrial cranes with Flyaway Productions.
How is STREB adapting its activities during the coronavirus pandemic? What outlets and resources are you relying to survive as a community of artists?
CC: We moved quickly as soon as we closed our doors on March 12 to offer classes online. We offer 11 classes per week free to the public via Zoom. Our children’s programming has continued as well - some over Zoom, and some classes for younger students via recorded video. We’re staying strong and keeping our community active and engaged through these classes as well as other performance events, which we’ve also produced online.
Do you collaborate with other organizations and/or cultural companies?
CC: Yes, we collaborate with other organizations in different ways. We have several regular schools and community partners with whom we work to bring our educational work to different groups. Artistically, we recently premiered a big commission with SITI company at Peak Performances at Montclair State University.
Education is at the core of the organization. What is PopAction and what are the tools that the classes provide to your students?
CC: PopAction is a technique developed by Elizabeth Streb which serves as the basis for all the work. Essentially, we build strength, confidence, and skills so that you can fall and fly safely and think philosophically about space, time, and force.
STREB is a multidisciplinary group, and you seem to experiment a lot. What role do science, technology, and multiculturalism play in the company's experimentations?
CC: Many of our works utilize “action machines” which are elaborately and beautifully designed bespoke equipment that allows us to access movement and extreme action in new ways. Our action heroes must inherently understand physics - gravity, momentum, angular momentum, etc. in order to perform the work. Our company of action heroes come from diverse backgrounds and bring their unique voices to the work and onto the stage.
Any advice for performers that don't have the chance to feature their work during the coronavirus pandemic?
CC: Keep evolving, keep experimenting, keep learning!
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