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Feats behind human form

Times Staff Writer

Years before television discovered survivor programming, Elizabeth Streb and a few other choreographers independently explored the extreme physical forces dancers contend with. They stripped away narrative, transition, preparation and scenic backgrounds to focus only on peak moments of stress, risk and action.

If the results sometimes resembled circus acts in their derring-do, audiences were wowed. They continued to be wowed over the weekend when Streb presented “Go! Action Heroes” at Royce Hall, UCLA. But it still looks more like circus than dance.

For the first time, Streb included pieces by another choreographer, six-year company member Terry Dean Bartlett. His works fit seamlessly into the Streb matrix, however, focusing, like his mentor’s, on single-movement concepts announced in her titles such as “Rise and Fall,” “Against the Wall” or “Fly.”

Stripped down to briefs -- which elicited appreciative whistles on Friday -- the hunky Bartlett was hauled aloft in his “Spin” to, well, spin, in various positions, testing his arm strength and physical control. It’s not clear if he intended any irony in presenting a good-looking young man hanging from an upside-down meat hook.

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In “Gravity,” Bartlett fell forward from the extreme heights to land face down on a mat, the impact amplified, as were all such collisions, to emphasize the danger and effort associated with the movement.

In this sense, unlike Chinese acrobatics, which it occasionally resembles, the work of Streb and company is never intended to look supple, effortless or painless, however extreme. In fact, a warning -- “Don’t try this at home” -- was among the messages projected at the back of the stage.

But there does seem to be a limit to how many ways you can slam into a wall, whether it’s wooden or metal, fixed or movable, horizontal or perpendicular to the audience. A series of peak experiences begins to look less like a row of mountaintops and more like a flat plane.

Besides Bartlett, the dancers included Chantal Deeble, Aaron Henderson, Nikita Maxwell, Weena Pauly and Jonah Spear. Streb herself appeared in “Kit of Parts,” walking backward through a barrage of wooden sticks hurled on either side of her by the other dancers. Now, that’s putting yourself on the line.

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