After the opening performance of STREB’s Run Up Walls (continuing weekends through May 23) at her action lab in Williamsburg, much of the audience stuck around to celebrate the publication of Elizabeth Streb’s How to Become an Extreme Action Hero (The Feminist Press, 2010). “To Mary! Action Forever!” she scrawled into my copy. Short, direct, and totally committed—just like the movements Streb has been exploring her entire career. “Real moves,” she calls them, the kind you would get hurt trying to stop.
Her new book explores a lifetime of thought and experience with extreme action—real moves—and the conditions that make them possible: body, space, time, motion. A MacArthur Fellow with an MA in Time and Space from NYU’s Draper Program, her manifesto draws from Einstein, Kant, superstring theorist Brian Greene, Evil Knievel, tightrope-walker Philippe Petit, and other eclectic sources.
The ideas presented are challenging—at least for me—because of Streb’s conflicted ideas about the body. On the one hand, she values physical experience greatly. Her richest insights come from her body’s sensations and as a choreographer, she aims for a physical response from her audience. Yet she seems ambivalent about caring for the body as she embraces danger, and she repeatedly criticizes the dance tradition’s focus on looking at the body. See the action, the forces, she tells us. “It’s hard not to care what the body looks like,” Streb acknowledges: “it is a human habit to care about our bodies. That is why the movement must be extreme, very extreme.”
While I have trouble with her disregard for pain and fear, it has enabled her to dive through glass, achieve moments of real flight, and execute a host of other real moves that owe their existence to fearlessness. Her sheer passion is inspiring.