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Dance : Jump. Fall. Bounce. Bravo. : With scaffolds, cables, platforms and trampolines, 'pop action' artist Elizabeth Streb sends her Ringside dancers twirling, dangling and crashing--all to make a point.

August 20, 1995|Jan Breslauer | Jan Breslauer is a regular contributor to Calendar.

S woosh. Oooooomphf! Ahhhhhh . . .

Four performers dangle headfirst, in front and near the top of a 40-foot-high yellow wall. Held aloft by nearly invisible wires, they fly out over the heads of onlookers, then swoop back in a single graceful move.

Belly-flopping against the wall, they crumple into little pill-bug shapes. Then, seconds later, they soar out into space again, pairing off in double-decker balance formations--weightless wonders, spacewalkers in an advanced gymnastics class.

This is not an errant cadre from Cirque du Soleil, or a Vegas sideshow gone highbrow. Those sinewy figures twirling overhead are members of Elizabeth Streb's company, Ringside, performing in the kinetic dance-installation piece "Lookup!"

Streb, a self-described "pop action" artist, makes works that are a cross between formalist circus and artsy bungee jumping. She gets high, so to speak, on scaffolds--and cables, platforms, trampolines and whatever other contraptions might come in handy.

Yet Streb, whose work hasn't been seen in Los Angeles since 1988, extends the whomp-thwack-thud of bodies colliding to a hyper-athletic aesthetic full of thrills. Her performances send daring young dancers flying (and slamming and crashing) through the air (and off towers and into walls) with anything but the greatest of ease--as the bruises and bangs they sometimes sport attest.

The point, in part, is to capitalize on the human fascination with dangerous feats. "I like event sports: boxing, rodeo," says Streb, dressed in red sweats, with an electric-green Ace bandage on her left leg, as she sits at a worktable in front of the "Lookup!" wall. "I like people who risk their lives doing things for no really good reason, useless activities that could kill people."

It's a natural curiosity that we're taught to suppress, Streb believes.

"Physicality is inherent in everybody," she says. "All the things we're told not to do in order to be good boys and girls are about unlearning a certain joie de vivre and what we know about life absolutely, which is a certain physicality."

Streb and Ringside have been in residence at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Temporary Contemporary in Little Tokyo since the beginning of the month. Their "ACTION OCCUPATION," marks the reopening of the renovated museum, which has been shuttered since June, 1992, with performances starting Wednesday. The bill includes two premieres and seven works from the Ringside repertory.

"She's an artist who has been working on developing a new lexicon of movement language," says curator Julie Lazar, who brought Streb to MOCA for the project, which has been three years in the making.

"I saw power and beauty and skill in her work, but not what we normally consider beautiful," Lazar says. "Her work is enlivening and exhilarating."

The cavernous white insides of the Temporary Contemporary are filled with an array of huge primary-colored installations that look like an outsize version of a playground for adults--with a tall pole here, a jungle gym there and various mats and backboards arranged in the 55,000-square-foot area.

It's a sweaty Saturday afternoon and about 40 people mill about the space, strolling from apparatus to apparatus, checking out the structures or clicking through CD-ROMs about the artist's work.

About half of the visitors to this "open rehearsal"--one of many during a three-week residency that has been going on since the beginning of this month--watch Streb put her dancers through their paces.

After a group warm-up, there's a run-through of "Surface," a piece with a rapid series of group moves putting up, taking down, landing on, walking over and otherwise negotiating several 6-by-8-foot walls.

Next, the company moves over to the contraption built for another piece. Members of the ad hoc audience follow, placing their white plastic chairs in front of two jungle-gym-like towers with a trampoline in the middle and slides on either side.

Ringsiders begin flying off the tower landings, diving into the yellow trampoline in the middle, soaring up to the overhead bars or down to the padded landing mats on the floor.

Then the pace increases and more bodies are added to the mix. Soon, it looks like a free-flowing spigot of bodies tumbling through space but constantly drawn, as though by anti-gravitational force, to the bars overhead.

The work, not surprisingly, is called "UP," and it is one of the two pieces that Ringside will premiere this week. "UP" is typical of the kind of fare that explains why Streb is an artist who doesn't fit neatly into any one category of performed art.

Although she has long been associated with the dance world, it is equally appropriate that her works are here to re-inaugurate a visual arts space.

"My interests don't lie in traditional dance," she says. "My investigations have been into physics, architecture [and other] things that inform me about movement or human movement potential."

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