A few weekends ago, I attended a screening of the film Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity, at the Reelout Film Festival here in Kingston. The documentary, directed by Emmy-nominated director, writer and producer Catherine Gund, surrounds and provides a deeper look into the life and work of dancer/choreographer Elizabeth Streb. Much of Streb’s work focuses on the idea of extreme action mechanics, as well as the obsession of making the human body fly. In addition, the film provides insight into the process of creating movement, the lives of the STREB dancers and their relation to the LGBTQ community (BORN TO FLY: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity).
In more detail, the film jumps between the past and present, the story of Elizabeth Streb, her dancers, and finally to the London Olympics in 2012. Streb decided at the age of seventeen that she wanted to be a dancer, and began taking traditional dance lessons. From here, she moved to New York to establish her own independent company and began creating her own shows (“About The Film.”). Much of Streb’s work focuses on her belief that popular dance was too delicate and beautiful. Therefore, in her own practice, she rejected this notion and took the idea that; “anything too safe is not action” (BORN TO FLY: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity). In 2003, the STREB Extreme Action Company opened SLAM – better known as the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics. Much of the film focuses on the injuries and personal lives of the dancers, and the dedication and effort it takes to complete the movements they are required to execute (“About The Film.”).
The film reaches its climax when Elizabeth Streb and her dancers travel to London in the summer of 2012, a few weeks before the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. Their motive for the trip was to foreshadow the athleticism and extreme action of the games with various events around London, such as; bungee jumping off a bridge, walking down city hall, and finally, dancing on the spokes of the London Eye. This final scene of movement on top of the London Eye is significant due to its intersection of extreme action, dance, and the personal lives of the dancers. More specifically, this scene provides images of just how small and fragile the human body is in comparison to the mechanical world. While atop the monument, the dancers were subtly moving and creating beautiful images of the strength and agility of the human body.
In addition, this scene is significant as it relates to a few themes presented within class. To begin, this scene provides insight into the intersectionality of privilege, sexuality and race. Intersectionality can be described as the study of intersections between forms of oppression, domination or discrimination (Aulette). Privilege is defined as an advantage or right given to a particular person or group of people. Sexuality is simply defined as whom you are attracted to (Aulette). Many of the Streb dancers identify with the LGBTQ community, which defies the norms expected from society (Aulette). Moreover, many belong to communities of racial minorities and therefore have grown up in a less privileged manner. Although they have faced many adversaries, it is because of their “fierce existence and passion” that they have come to Streb to create a community of inclusion through dance (BORN TO FLY: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity). Therefore, they connect to themes presented in class and have found ways of overcoming roadblocks.
Furthermore, the film, Born to Fly relates to course concepts of gender socialization and the stereotypical view of how both males and females should act. Gender socialization is the social construction of gender roles, and tells us how we should act according to typical male/female roles (Aulette). Generally speaking, the Streb dancers are very muscular and large, which falls in suit for the men and the idea of hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is a culturally exalted form of masculinity that is linked to power, authority and aggression over women (Aulette). Opposing this idea is the contradiction and idea that dance is not masculine and men should not follow through with the profession. Therefore, the male dancers challenge this gender-socialized norm by pursuing a career in dance and the performing arts. Vice versa, the female dancers in the Streb Company are very muscular, masculine and large. This too goes against the idea of femininity and emphasized femininity that is associated with the typical female dancer. Emphasized femininity refers to how society or the media sees womanhood, or expects women to act (Aulette). Moreover, Streb’s movement involves a lot of crashing and thrashing about which too goes against typical gender ideas of how women should act and move.
In my opinion, the film was both very well made, and aesthetically pleasing to watch. As a former dancer myself, I was intrigued by the movement and creative process of Elizabeth Streb and her dancers. Moreover, I found that the film gave a perspective to dance and movement that many people do not see; as a bold, harsh, and injury filled profession. While watching the film, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, eagerly anticipating the movements of the dancers’ dangerous positions and exhilarating scenes. The experiencing of attending the film and the film festival was a very positive one for me. To conclude, I would recommend this film to anyone interested in dance, gender studies or both, as I found it touched on aspects of both disciplines.
“About The Film.” BORN TO FLY: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity. Aubin Pictures Inc., 2014. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.
Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. Print.
BORN TO FLY: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity. Dir. Catherine Gund. Prod. Tanya Selvaratnam. Perf. Elizabeth Streb. Aubin Pictures Inc., 2014. Film.