Late Nights at the Whitney
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This April, choreographer Elizabeth Streb’s STREB Extreme Action Company teamed up with The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center‘s Youth Enrichment Services program (Y.E.S.) for a Whitney-sponsored residency. The collaboration was in part born out of both organizations' preexisting relationships with the Museum, but also out of their shared values. At Y.E.S., the arts play a central role in supporting an inclusive community. In a similar spirit, Streb's brand of risk-taking movement challenges participants to push the limits of their bodies, while encouraging creativity and collaboration.
On May 21, after nearly two months of working closely with STREB company members, a group of five young people proudly debuted the fruits of this partnership, performing their piece of original choreography, “Flowers in the City,” outside on the Standard Hotel’s plaza during Community Day, the Whitney’s daylong celebration in the Meatpacking District.
The performance was inaugurated in typical STREB fashion, with one of the performers shouting, “Dancers ready?” from the center of the stage, defined by an arrangement of oversized purple mats in the center of the plaza. In STREB’S PopAction technique, this question enables the temporal and spatial precision demanded by the dance's high-impact movement. Yet it also works to warn the audience of other sounds to come—namely, those produced as performers’ bodies start to hit the ground. Equal parts circus and science, PopAction encourages dancers to defy both force and gravity, and this often results in daring prone falls, partnering stunts, and loud drops.
As soon as the dancers replied “Ready!”, the group boldly began to perform a series of challenging skills and maneuvers with fearlessness and cohesion, but, most important, confidence. Watching the performance, it was hard to believe that no one in the group had prior experience with the technique. But their knowledge of other kinds of movement was put to good use. Although PopAction provides a basic lexicon, it is a constantly evolving dance form. “Once a STREB dancer has this foundation, they are free to create new vocabulary that reflects their own physicality, pool of knowledge, and creativity,” Cassy Joseph, the company member of more than three years who led the residency, explained.
In “Flowers in the City,” this call for collaboration led to the inclusion of vogue. The house dance form, which developed in New York’s gay ballroom scene in the ‘60s and ‘70s, was introduced when two participants demonstrated a "dip” during a rehearsal. (A dip is an iconic vogue move, in which a dancer falls backwards with one leg tucked behind their body.) Joseph promptly added it to the end of a combination, and this ultimately led to the addition of stylized dips, floorwork, and posing all inspired by vogue.
While many watching may not have recognized the combination of two different dance forms, it was clear to all that the group was inspired by STREB. It was also a perfect example of what can be created when people with diverse experiences come together to create something totally new.