a fire escape, Christine Chen ’97 performed an aerial
dance. (Photo by Elizabeth Gorelik)
high Christine Chen ’97 soars through the air for modern
When most people talk about taking a beating in the market or
having a rough day at the office, they use their words figuratively.
When Christine Chen ’97 finishes a grueling day at her job,
the aches and bruises are real. As a member of Elizabeth Streb’s
company, STREB, Chen “dances” in the air, and sometimes
dives and crashes to the ground.
Streb, a MacArthur Award recipient, is redefining modern dance
with shows that are a cross between circus and concert events. Forget
everything you imagine about dance — upright figures, graceful
shapes, melodic music — and picture bodies clad in red unitards,
looking like human rockets leaping into horizontal poses and landing
on the ground. The dancers might form towers of people or squeeze
themselves into a large aquarium like human sardines. “Music”
consists primarily of verbal cues and landing sounds.
In Brooklyn last spring, Chen performed at the company’s
huge studio, whose concrete walls and floor are lined with mats.
Strapped into a metal gadget that looked like a giant pitchfork,
Chen flew around the room like Superwoman as other dancers caught
and pushed the opposite end of the massive device.
Working with STREB, says Chen, “I feel more like a professional
athlete than a professional dancer.” In July the company performed
with the international touring circus Cirque du Soleil in Canada.
Chen has always been in motion. A gymnast before college, she
took up modern dance at Princeton. A sociology major, Chen earned
a certificate in dance, performed in Expressions Dance Company,
and competed on the diving team. She earned an M.F.A. in dance at
Ohio State University and joined STREB in December 2003.
For Chen, the reasons to dance with the innovative company outnumber
the sore muscles. “I studied Elizabeth Streb in dance history
class and now she’s standing in front of me each day. I was
awestruck at first,” says Chen. “She puts movement together
in a way I’d never predict.”
By Kate Mattingly ’93
Kate Mattingly ’93 writes about dance and culture.