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Elizabeth Streb, Suiting, and the Pursuit of Flying

“The original notion of Streb Extreme Action was that we believe humans can fly. I started out with that premise, and it involved deciding that in that case, you must land. As a theatrical, dramatic — but also an actual theoretical — necessity.” That’s how Elizabeth Streb, founder of Streb Extreme Action described her company to us.

If that sounds intimidating, ambitious, dangerous, and wild, it’s because it is. “We started out developing that technique — falling from a foot, a half a foot. Falling from 10 feet, 15, 30 feet. I think that’s the furthest we’ve fallen from. It’s pretty invigorating.” The “we” she refers to includes company members like Jackie Carlson, De’shaun Cruz, and Tyler Duboys. Elizabeth works with her team to create the conditions and the apparatuses for the company members to go “higher, faster, sooner, and harder.” And that’s exactly what they do as they move through machinery, fling themselves from all sorts of heights, and, yes, fly.

It’s risky, sure, but that’s part of the appeal. Jackie, who was a ballet dancer for years notes that the danger is what entertains people. In fact, it’s one of the reasons she was drawn to join up years ago. (And plus, here, as opposed to ballet, she didn’t have to be partnered by a man to do tricks, “no thank you, I can do it on my own,” she says with a laugh.)

De’shaun worked his way through classes in the space. Beginning with acro, he heard about an upcoming three-day audition and said “okay, you know what let me go for it!” Learning about himself and what his body could do was exciting, and he wondered what it would be like to continue investigating that. And, well, the rest is sort of history.

Like De’shaun, Tyler, then an NYU student, saw an audition and thought “Yeah, let’s try it out, let’s see what happens.” It was when he arrived that he felt the “curiosity of action.” It’s a quality that he carried from high school where he would rig up circus silks in a dance studio and mess around. At Streb, he was able to investigate more equipment and constantly ask what could be done on it, around it, or in it.

They’re all working closesly with Elizabeth, who started on her own 40 years ago. She slowly added different pieces like ropes, sticks, hoops, and trampolines to the puzzle. There’s a partnership between her architecture and the dancers, and she challenges them to get used to each piece in the arsenal. It’s a constant exploration that pushes what people and their bodies can do.

Streb tells us all of this while sitting clad in a black suit, which has become her everyday apparel. After arriving at college, fresh from years of Catholic school where she was constantly in a uniform, she needed to figure out her style. “You know, I’ve got to have a look … I just kept trying to figure out what should I wear?” In the end, it came down to suits. “I just thought it was important to figure out what your essence is, and then pattern yourself with that. With that look.” She’s strictly regimented when it comes to this, never even separating a jacket from its pants. Every now and then her stylist will tell her to mix it up a little bit, to which she says, “I want head-to-toe the same thing. And that’s a suit. It’s a suit.”

For more information on Streb Extreme Action, please visit their website.