The equipment—as with all of Streb’s paraphernalia from her earliest days—designs the movement, suggesting what’s possible and what’s not. The climax of the evening involves what the program terms a “Whizzing Gizmo” (designed by Noe and Evan Espana). It’s an immense yellow wheel, set on edge within a framework, except that a sort of pyramid of bars sticks out of one side (imagine a bottomless measuring cup with an openwork handle). The wheel is wide enough for two people to work side by side inside it. In “action events” titled Promenade and SuperPosition, the breathing, sweating action heroes turn a hamster’s exercise into a carnival of virtuosity. Joseph begins inside the wheel—walking to make it turn, beginning to run, to leap, to flip, and then to run backward. The others crouch and watch, springing in and out two by two or in teams. Donaldson leaps high inside the wheel; Fabio Tavares strolls breezily in the opposite direction on the outer rim, with nothing to hang onto. People clamber into the “handle,” swing off the wheel. Ami Ipapo is the first to fly into the air and land on a distant high mattress. Did Lindsay actually do a back flip on the outer rim? In the end, they let the Gizmo’s momentum die down, and he and Jackie Carlson, feet planted wide apart, make it sway gently side to side, like a clock face that tilts with its own pendulum.

If it’s true that watching others move makes our own muscles fire, we’ve had a workout. Streb cooks up a vibrant stew that’s part circus, part sporting event, part theater, part student recital, and part scrupulous time-motion-energy investigation. The neighborhood sniffs the aroma and crowds in the door.


Circles figure subtly and mythically in Tapasya, Rajika Puri’s striking new attempt to mold India’s Bharata Natyam and Odissi dance-theater styles into a more contemporary Western mode of storytelling. Her theme is the Ganges—the river and the goddess whose name it bears. The river—where it comes from, where it flows—shimmers as a watery metaphor for the cycle of birth, life, transcendence, death, and rebirth. But Puri also posits a link between the god Shiva and the sadhus. These ascetics tie some of their matted hair into a small knot on top of their heads, just as Shiva once bound the goddess Ganga in order to keep the water she embodied from flooding the earth. And in luscious colored film footage by Greg Emetaz (including photos by Thomas Kelly and Svrinivas Kuruganti), shown before and during the performance, we see today’s sadhus swarming into Benares (Varanasi) to purify themselves in the Ganges.

Elizabeth Streb’s “action heroes” in "Catapult"
Tom Caravaglia
Elizabeth Streb’s “action heroes” in "Catapult"
Rajika Puri and Dancers in "Tapasya"
Stephanie Berger
Rajika Puri and Dancers in "Tapasya"

Details

Streb Extreme Action
S.L.A.M.
51 North 1st Street, Williamsburg, 212-352-3101
Through May 17

Rajika Puri and Dancers
Joyce Soho
May 7 through 10

The various Sanskrit epics tell of the river’s origin and Ganga’s exploits differently. For Tapasya (meaning heat, ecstasy), Puri has slid several tales together and recounted them through dancing, pantomime, and words—some of these spoken in English by her while moving, others sung by the superb vocalist Shobana Raghavan (accompanied by John Hadfield on percussion), still others on tape. She and members of her talented ensemble—Aditi Dhruv, Shobana Ram, and, especially, Nirali Shastri (who also choreographed two of Puri’s solos)—play different roles at different times. For instance, at one point, Dhruv portrays the god Brahma, who swivels his four heads so wildly to gaze at a seductive woman that he grows a fifth one. Puri, as Shiva in disguise, abducts that extra head, which sticks to his hand (“Big mistake!” chorus Ram and Shastri, who’ve been showing us with their gestures Brahma’s creation of the animal kingdom and of the very woman he’s ogling). In one magical sequence, Puri depicts both the lecherous advances of King Sagara and the flirtatious shyness of Ganga, who was, some say, born of sweat collected from Indra by Brahma (are you with me?)

There are no fancy traditional costumes in Tapasya; the women wear handsomely draped black pants and strappy cotton tops (different colors for each of the work’s three main sections). Emetaz’s films and Kathy Kaufmann’s rich lighting are decoration enough. There are no extended dance numbers either. We see small episodes that display the rhythmically stamping feet, the flashing gazes, precisely wheeling arms, and articulate fingers of Bharata Natyam and Odissi (that most seductive of styles). In this elegantly arranged narrative, everything flows into everything else. Puri has written the words that she speaks, and she is a marvelous performer in every way. I can’t help wishing, though, that the text were not quite so packed with words, and that program notes could be provided to outline the fantastic exploits. I struggle to bend my mind around the image of a king’s 60,000 sons tiptoeing around a meditating holy man to locate a kidnapped horse of major significance. No wonder they disturbed his meditation, and he retaliated by burning them to ashes! When a descendant of theirs begged Shiva to release Ganga to Earth (in monitored amounts), it was because he wanted to moisturize his ancestors back to life.

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