The star name of this season's Dance Umbrella is Elizabeth Streb. Already feted in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles for her daredevil choreography, this is her London debut.
Forty-five-year-old Streb came to dance from downhill ski, motorbikes and athletics and, although her training is solid modern dance, it is sport and dynamic gut-wrenching action which marks out her style. Her dancers fly. They criss-cross mid air, they walk on walls and ceilings defying gravity and conceptions of space and time. They are harnessed into elaborate pulleys or they freefall on trampolines or from high towers. The only music is the human body thudding against hard surface and miked for maximum effect.
She has named her company Ringside and the atmosphere is closer to circus than any conventional dance show.
She calls her work "pop action". There is nothing elitist about her technique. She brings in local children to train with the company and then display what they've learnt. The effect is an innocent parody of the adults.
Streb calls this Kids Action. Hope Clark teaches the kids. She's from Washington DC and she majored in choreography at Bennington College and worked in a maximum security prison encouraging prisoners to create performance work.
"Four years ago I joined Elizabeth because her work was so direct and scientific. It makes me reach my highest discipline."
Clark started Kids Action in 1993 when the company had a residency at New York's Brooklyn Anchorage. "It was Elizabeth's idea. In Philadelphia we worked with homeless kids. The experience is out of the ordinary for them. It teaches them teamwork. They also learn that for us, there are no winners or losers, just the incredible experience of hanging around a professional company. I teach discipline and self confidence. Girls learn to use their arms. They learn how to push up off their feet. They learn their muscularity and strength rather than just how to use their bodies as decoration."
I saw the Kids Action group in rehearsal and performance in Chicago this September. All the children were black and most of them were female. One was obese. "We love every size and shape. Everyone can create action that's gorgeous. Of course there are occasional pile-ups."
How are the children selected? "We don't choose them. They come through community links. In Los Angeles at the Museum of Contemporary Art residency, most were white and cultured. Then someone brought in Hispanic children, which led to Hispanic and white working very well together."
The 17th Dance Umbrella Festival celebrates with a variety of dance events around London during October 10 - November 11. For details, including Ringside on October 13 and 14, tel: 0181 741 5881.