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STREB performance in Breckenridge pushes the limits of possibility

DAY 10 SCHEDULE

Sunday, Aug. 21

SEA (Singular Extreme Actions) by STREB Extreme Action Company; 7:30 p.m.; Riverwalk Center; $35 Adults, $10 Kids

Saurus by Close-Act Theatre: 11 a.m., 1 p.m.; Blue River Plaza; free

The Swarm: All day; downtown Breckenridge

The Herd: All day; Old Masonic Hall

Wertz + Dengate: All day; Old Masonic Hall

Trail Mix series: 9:30 a.m., Iowa Hill Trail; 2 p.m., Moonstone Trail

More stories from BIFA:

Event preview

Event Photos

The Swarm with Tasha Lewis

Swinging from a rapidly rotating ladder, the woman launched herself from the axis. After soaring through the air horizontally, she landed on the mat with a "thud." Called Extreme Action Heroes, the dancers flip, dodge, fly and fall as part of Elizabeth Streb's choreography, a dichotomy of careful precision and raw emotion.

"We fly. That was the original mustard-seed idea, that humans can fly," Streb, the creator of STREB Extreme Action Company explained.

By combining contraptions of steel and wood with the daring dancers, Streb uses these tools to explore the limits of human movement in a style she calls "pop action."

"It's a brutal form," Streb said. "It's a very eloquent, aerial, gorgeous form."

One of two pieces featured at the Riverwalk Center on Saturday, "Ascension" featured the action heroes balancing atop the ladder, swinging and climbing rapidly in unison. Streb has one rule for the piece of equipment: never let go.

As the ladder begins to spin faster, the athletes face the challenges of g-forces and dizziness

"It's months and months of getting used to the simplest motions," she explained "In ballet, you're always looking at the wall, trying to spot. … When you get dizzy and can handle it, you kind of eliminate that habit."

The other piece, "Quake," features a fountain of dancers flipping and springing onto the mat, each landing flat before quickly tucking out of the way. Both public showings lead up to the feature event on Sunday, a new performance called SEA (Singular Extreme Actions) that the company has been working on since January.

The company transported several different contraptions for the performance: Air uses a trampoline to launch the action heroes upward. Ground Level, which Streb describes as "the most brutal dance I have here," uses a platform to explore 90-degree angles. The show will also include a piece called Tide, which features two dancers tied together with harnesses.

All of the equipment is transported from New York City in a 53-foot truck. Streb helps design several of the pieces.

Between performances, the dancers sprawled on the couches and mats backstage, nursing bottles of water and stretching sore muscles. Of course, the change in altitude from Brooklyn to Breckenridge is also a factor.

"It's not nothing because tomorrow we have to go into this full show," Streb said. "Live performance — it's so impractical but it's my love. … Because this is a present tense technique, what you see is exactly what they're doing."

STREB Extreme Action Company performs "Quake"

"Ascension"

PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES

Streb's notebook is filled with intricate diagrams and clippings, including sketches of equipment and a photo of a bungee jumper. Her work is seeking the answers to difficult questions, everything from, "can you move your leg from your toes?" to "what is the iambic pentameter of action?"

As they seek to find the answers, the dancers tap into something deeper. Performing challenging feats, their expressions range from pure joy — as a dancer flips upsie down — to apprehension — as one approaches the edge of a platform before diving to the ground below.

The audience's reactions are just as diverse, from awe to exclamations of, "that's crazy!"

Streb began adapting her own form of movement while living in New York City, working in restaurants, after she tried to convert her apartment into a studio. She then moved the space to a garage in Brooklyn to prevent damage to the ceilings beneath her.

In the company's current location in Brooklyn, called "SLAM," Streb offers classes to the public and kids programs, including after-school classes. It also hosts a circus.

"It just started to grow from there," she said. "Everyone is their own author of action."

A talented athlete, Streb was an action specialist before she started dancing at age 17.

"I was obsessed with movement and hardware," she said.

Despite the drive to push the boundaries of movement, Streb never asks the action heroes to take on a task she wouldn't face herself. During the London Olympics, at age 62, Streb herself scaled down a 10-story building.

"I'm trying to figure out how to break someone's heart with motion," she explained. "If I can make it extreme enough, they'll feel that."