Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

October 6, 2004:

Suspended from a fire escape, Christine Chen ’97 performed an aerial dance. (Photo by Elizabeth Gorelik)

Flying high
Christine Chen ’97 soars through the air for modern dance

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.