Dance, Dares and Drama

 Do you ever wonder how something as trivial and mundane as movement affects people? It is through dance. My mother put me in my first dance class, a Mommy and Me movement class, when I was three years old, and I haven’t stopped dancing since. In my internship with Aubin Pictures, my background of dance drew me towards their newest documentary, Born to Fly. I thought I was familiar with almost all styles of dance, but I had never heard of “POPACTION” – the movement technique invented by Elizabeth Streb.

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Dance has always been a form of expression and release for me, as well as a form of exercise. Letting loose; getting lost in music; and allowing myself to open up and let my mind and body work without any constraints gives me an irresistible sense of freedom. There is no pressure, no judgment, no competition. There is only movement and artistry. Dance is unique in that the art comes from the moment of creation, not the final product. The piece is temporary but the impact can last a lifetime. The power that dance brings to artists is through their explorations of movement, constantly finding new ways to move and depict a story or even emote their feelings. The grace and beauty of the performer’s expressive movements affects the audience. I know I am moved by watching someone I have never met share a part of him or herself without even speaking. That is the beautiful thing about dance, it quietly teaches so much.

Elizabeth Streb takes this power of dance and makes it her own, focusing on strength, action, and acrobatics. The film Born to Fly depicts the suspense and exhilaration of the STREB dancers. Streb has them experiment with movement and gravity in hopes of experiencing her dream of flying. When I was watching this film, I found myself tensing up while watching some of the stunts they were performing; from running through and jumping over a human sized hamster wheel-like contraption to dodging concrete bricks on a pendulum to jumping through glass barriers. These dancers must undergo such physical extremes to gain the strength and endurance needed to rehearse and perfect Streb’s choreography. With POPACTION, I find it interesting how the dancers don’t try to cover the raw action and controversial danger of what they are doing. Breaking the traditions of dance, Streb’s performances allow the audience to hear the dancers’ heavy breathing and grunting. The audience can hear the bodies dropping to the ground, and they can see the hard work in the dancers’ faces.

 Traditionally for dancers, making insanely difficult tricks look effortless is part of the job. For example, when watching ballerinas dance in pointe shoes, on top of their toes, it looks graceful and airy. However, these movements are very painful, taking up hours and hours everyday to practice to grow used to the pain. Both Streb’s dancers and traditional ones go through such intense training, from dietary needs, to multiple doctors, to hours of exercise and rehearsal every day, to bandaging and icing and heating and massaging their overused and hurt bodies. The amazing thing about dance is that after all of this, these dancers get on stage for just a few minutes and have the power to bring people to tears. These men and women have such incredible strength and focus yet they move with such artistry.

 Streb not only resists masking the pain her dancers endure she also works with her dancers to invent new forms and territories of movement. In her various notebooks she is constantly discovering, pushing the boundaries between art, physics and action. Her dancers climbing and dancing on the wires of the London Eye, during the “One Extraordinary Day” performance, create a sense of freedom for the dancers themselves and a beautiful image for those on the ground to keep. Just like when Philippe Petit strung a tightrope between the twin towers and danced across it on August 7, 1974, these people are putting themselves where no one has gone before. I find that the ephemeral sense of this art adds to its beauty. The lightness and grace of the dances in the sky is heavily contrasted by both the shows Streb puts on in New York City and the physical training she puts her dancers through. Her dancers are flying through the air, freefalling, hitting the ground, spinning at different angles and heights, and distributing their weight amongst themselves to create various shapes in and around her customized machinery. This is what Streb’s dancers love, and they give up a lot for it.

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-Avery

A Moment of Reflection

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I like to consider myself a humanitarian. I feel fulfilled when I am working on social issues that provide a voice to those who are not within a hegemony; creating teaching material for others that generates open-minded thought; and taking part in volunteer work. As someone who also identifies as a ‘storyteller’, I intend to use stories to educate audiences, generate discussion, and awareness. This semester I have taken part in an off-campus study where I have access to internships providing life experience on operating in the film industry. One of my internships took place at Aubin Pictures, and I have been pleasantly surprised to be able to work with a company that shares my values. It has been a satisfying experience to be enveloped in.

Being involved in Born to Fly’s post-production process has been a really thought-provoking experience. I had not heard of Elizabeth Streb or Pop-Action before working on this project, and even though one may not think that a documentary about a relatively new kind of dance would really fall under the aspects of humanitarianism that appeal to me, in a roundabout way it really does. The film is really clever in featuring people who are artistic iconoclasts: Elizabeth Streb, the film’s subject, has created her own form of dance, is not sentimental, is lesbian-identified, does not body shame her dancers, simply requires them to be in shape to deal with the force of her dance style, and provides movements for her dancers that are not gendered in a traditional sense. Yet Born to Fly is not a movie about her experience as a woman struggling to create a new dance style, having the experience of being LGBT, or working with the London 2012 Olympics. By creating a film where these issues are not the sole subject, but a lens through which they are given the opportunity to be viewed by audiences, we are able to present a world where perspectives that are not normally featured in mainstream media are not immediately questioned and are integrated into every day life.

I have also been involved in one of Aubin’s previous projects What’s On Your Plate?, which is more straightforwardin its social awareness ties as it is an investigation led by two 11-year-old girls on the subject of where food comes from, what children are eating, and the politics that surround the subject. I had the pleasure of conducting research comparing where we were in 2009 to now in regards to social awareness and health in the United States. I so appreciate the fact that this is a film that isn’t over once watching it, or even with half a decade having passed since it was first created: it’s still relevant. Aubin Pictures works with students and teachers and not-for-profit organizations all across the United States, providing screenings, merchandise bundles, and activities to help communities learn more about healthy eating, accessing resources, and raising their voices. Just like with Born to Fly, we have iconoclastic characters telling a story. Instead of having a scientist or adult to explain to us as an audience the food process in the United States, we have two youths learning just as we are. Having two young girls as our guides tells us as an audience that they are just as capable of taking the initiative for investigative thought as well. What this choice and the subject matter of the movie do is empower children to teach their own families about having a healthy lifestyle, giving the upcoming generation tools to help shape their future.

The two film projects I worked on are but a small portion of the collection of social awareness movies that have been generated by Aubin Pictures. What is consistent with the message created by Aubin Pictures is that people have the power to take charge and make change; they can do great things if they educate themselves, operate from a place with an open heart, and take action.

In the fall, I’ll be returning for my final year of college with not only a better understanding of the operations behind the creation of independent film, but a revitalized passion and determination that despite the difficulties that come with operating in the film industry, one of which being a woman, it is very possible to create work to take pride in and that can inspire and educate others. 

Best,

Katelyn

 

 

 

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