Elizabeth Streb

Action Architect
Born Rochester, NY, 1950
Lives in New York, NY

The [FCA] grant allowed me the freedom to pursue a fairly expensive idea to its fruition. It was the honor of receiving this award as well as the total surprise of it that seemed to make this particular amount of money go even further!

Elizabeth Streb, April 1997


Elizabeth Streb is a dancer and choreographer. Throughout her career, she has developed an original approach to choreography that emphasizes action and gravity-defying movement. For inspiration, she has drawn from Russian Constructivist and Bauhaus dance movements, as well as from boxing, the circus, the rodeo, and gymnastics.

Streb founded her company, STREB in 1979, and as Artistic Director has led the group on tours throughout the United States and abroad. In 2003, Streb established SLAM (STREB Lab for Action Mechanics) in Brooklyn. SLAM is open to the public for classes and open rehearsals. In 2011, STREB performed shows at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and at the River To River Festival. STREB has performed in theaters large and small and served as an artist-in-residence at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Walker Art Center. STREB was commissioned by the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the Mayor of London to participate in the London 2012 Festival. For the performance One Extraordinary Day (July 15, 2012) STREB dancers performed seven action events across major London.

Following her 1996 FCPA-support, Streb was the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1997), a New York Dance and Performance Awards “Bessie" Award (1999), a Doris Duke Artist Award (2013), as well as over thirty years of ongoing support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Streb is also the subject of the 2014 documentary Born to Fly, directed by Catherine Gund. Previous to receiving her 1996 FCPA grant, Streb received a New York Dance and Performance Awards “Bessie" Award (1988), a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1989), and a Brandeis Creative Arts Award (1991).

Streb received a B.A. from the State University of New York, Brockport in 1972. She is a member of the board of the Jerome Foundation and a member of the Atlantic Center for the Arts National Council. Her book STREB: How to Become an Extreme Action Hero was published in 2010. Streb has been a featured speaker presenting her keynote lectures at such places as TEDxMet, the Institute for Technology and Education (ISTE), POPTECH, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the National Performing Arts Convention, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Chorus America, the University of Utah, the Caroline Werner Gannett Project, and on NPR's Science Friday.

Artist Statement

Throughout my career, my goal has always been to create a motion lexicon that all humans recognize. I call it “PopAction" and it exists now, not only on stage as a fusion of dance, sports, gymnastics, and the American circus—but also in a place, the STREB LAB FOR ACTION MECHANICS (SLAM), where an exchange of human acts takes place everyday, enriching my vocabulary and hopefully expanding the lives of my company's co-conspirators, the audience. My aim is to create work that speaks of and to everyday human potential. Let's reinvent the radical art of culture, let's imagine art entwined with the culture of the street, the surprising quotidian event; art that is as accidental, an occurrence in people's everyday urban lives as the parks, the sidewalks, the trees, and the corner deli. Each and every time I work I ask, "how can movement elicit sorrow, fright, humor, excitement, and the desire to live a better life—all at once." I want my work to make all of us want to do more, go further. I believe that action—on the stage and in the street—is the most powerful force on earth. In my action explorations and inventions, I use frame of reference, perspective, proportionality, vanishing point, and parallax view to challenge assumptions and frame how we see our world. The designed and mechanical structures we invent embroider space and activate the air. My collaborators and I weave together spectacle, bodies, hardware, and pure bravery so that spectators are whiplashed by new beliefs of flight, movement, and possibility.