The audience cheered even before the performers of Streb Extreme Action started flying off their giant trampoline and slamming into mats and boards and one another.
The first applause came minutes earlier, when a DJ strode onstage and told the people in the Eisenhower Theater to take out their phones and take photos. During the performance. Videos, too. Upload them to social media to “let everyone know how much fun you’re having here,” the DJ said.
Oh, the liberation! There is nothing so Instagrammable as dancers — or “action heroes,” as Artistic Director Elizabeth Streb calls the members of her Brooklyn-based tribe, which performed Friday and Saturday at the Kennedy Center. Cellphone screens lit up and flashes flashed as Streb’s orange-Spandex-clad, granite-muscled thrill-seekers began swan-diving off the trampoline and belly-flopping onto the mats below during a performance Saturday. Whether they spiraled, back-flipped or somersaulted, they landed stiff and flat, like bricks. They rolled away split-seconds before others plummeted around them.
The music was solely for our benefit. The performers operated on their own shouted counts and cues, the only way out of chaos. Concentration was their safety net. “Up!” “Go!” “Hop!” we heard. They soared down to the mat, spun on their heads, bounced on their hard, unbouncy bottoms.
It was not all ferocity. One of the cues was “hug!” Aw.
Gradually, the phones in the seats stopped flashing, as the choice between experiencing the action and taking fuzzy photos of it became clear. With all of the danger and exertion of these moves exposed, the performers’ beyond-imaginable flights from trampolines, walls and scaffolding felt truly heroic, and exhilarating.
But the thrills did not quite last. This weekend’s program, dubbed “SEA (Singular Extreme Actions),” borrowed material from previous appearances at the Kennedy Center and other local venues over the years. The second half felt like a rehashing of the first.
Streb has been experimenting with the limits of the human body and human courage for about 30 years, and she has no trouble thinking big. Her company has performed in stadiums, with Cirque du Soleil and at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The performers have jumped off bridges and climbed down skyscrapers.
But dreaming up enough variety for the relatively small space of a proscenium stage? That’s a challenge still to be met.