Frenzied movement, inherent beauty


June 20, 1992|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Staff Writer

Off the Walls, the Baltimore Museum of Art Contemporary Performance Series, appropriately closed last night at the museum with the outrageous and amazing works of New York choreographer and performer Elizabeth Streb, who literally had her dancers bouncing off walls.

Ms. Streb and her five dancers, who comprise Ringside, bring a new level of meaning to the term "slam-dancing" as she and her dancers aggressively and often seemingly brutally hurled themselves toward any immovable object.

Throughout the four dances, this was the floor, or, as in the case of the opening work, "Wall," and the closing work, "Impact," they used a wall and a Plexiglas shield, respectively.

Yet Ms. Streb's work is more than overwhelming physicality. While the dances contained the athleticism and precision of a Marine boot camp, they also have inherent beauty. Ms. Streb's strong visual and sculptural sensibilities create potent imagery and her wit and dramatic timing stretches our perceptions.

"Wall," the opening work, with its set of a black vertical wall, introduced us to Ms. Streb's unique vision. Four performers entered the space and suddenly they splatter their bodies against a black monolith. They leave chalk white imprints where their hands and bodies had made contact. It is full body graffiti.

After the initial surprise of bodies slamming into the wall, one began to notice the rhythm of the work, the mechanics of the body, the sound of the breath, the amplified reverberation of bodies making impact and the punctuation of verbal cues.

Watching Ms. Streb and her dancers is a visceral experience. More than once the precarious positions and frenzied volley of activity left the audience collectively breathless. Both the opening work, "Wall," and the closing, "Impact," are like bookends. Both have performers reacting with a vertical surface in ways that defy gravity and credibility. We are given a taste of vertigo as, one by one, the dancers walk up the surface of the wall, then suddenly drop to the floor.

"Ground Level," a work for four performers, and "Link," a duet, kept the dancers away from vertical surfaces, but that did not impede their propensity for falling over frontward or backward, separately, in canon or in unison.

Insidiously weaving itself through all this hyperactivity is the bright thread of Ms. Streb's humor. More than once, her images struck a humorous chord, whether because the actions are preposterous and look surreal, or because they drudge up cartoon memories.

It doesn't' really matter. There is an immediate kinesthetic response to this company.

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