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A new way to harness the energy of dancers

Special to The Times

Elizabeth Streb calls it “camouflaging gravity.” It’s one of the moves that Streb’s extremely physical dance company will uncork at UCLA’s Royce Hall this weekend. One key is a custom-made harness system, designed by the Espana brothers, of “extreme circus” fame. It consists of a black rubber harness with two “waistpoints” where 10 bungee strands attach via swiveling aluminum carabiners. The bungees, in turn, attach to a truss that moves.

“These harnesses are the best method for being in the air,” explains Streb, who has been pursuing anti-gravity since founding the company in 1979, “because you’re able to support your body weight in the air in any position.”

The black rubber rig fits close to the dancers’ hips, as opposed to bulky leather upper-back flying harnesses. With the sleeker harness, the right carabiner links, bungees that can hold 3,000 pounds and the movable truss, a dancer can do double flips 20 feet in the air, and flop off the ground and rebound right back up. “You can land on your head and not destroy your spine,” says Streb.

The disadvantages? The harness is tight to the point of nausea, which means the dancers can endure it for only short periods of time.

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The harness system was crucial to the conception of “Air,” one of 21 mini-works on the upcoming program. Without it, for instance, dancers Terry Dean Bartlett and Jonah Spear couldn’t stand on the heads of Weena Pauly and Chantal Deeble, then walk down their bodies.

Or maybe “dancer” isn’t the right word. “We are action maniacs,” Streb says, “and the legacy I most adhere to is Evel Knievel or Houdini.”


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