KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 12: Summer 2019
Tanka Prose: 785 words
in [5]

Get Up and Dance:
An e-Collection of 15 Ekphrastic Tanka Prose

by Charles D. Tarlton
[5] SEA: Streb Extreme Action

Still photo from Elizabeth Streb’s SEA: Singular Extreme Actions

...I ask, how can movement elicit sorrow, fright, humor, excitement,
and the desire to live a better life—all at once.

—Elizabeth Streb2


By some process of abstraction (or so it seemed to me) the choreographer imagined an animated geometry in Time, a very real but brief flying in the space-time continuum. The dancers shoot left and right from their trampoline across intersecting curving lines in Space and Time from A toward B, from C toward D, and then right into the audience’s imagination. In the very idea of air, in the biomechanics of the projected, soaring, weighted body, in the algorithms of lift and duration, the idea of flight keeps humming.

in a room writing
poems, repeating things I heard
when the dancers spoke
about that point before they
fell heavily back to earth

any catapult
makes you picture weightlessness
thinking you can fly
a short threatening second
when anything could happen

hundreds of such seconds
disparate and unconnected
come together then—
in your imagination
you are a soaring eagle


So, now, here’s a little truth from the other side: no matter how high you fly you have to come down. Even if your lust to fly is bigger than the sky itself, you will still have to come down. Imagine the greatest ever success at flying, whether you’re a bird or a rocket or a just a jumping man, sooner or later, you have to come down. This is simply physics, of course, but also psychology. When you try to fly, especially when you succeed, and you want so badly to stay up, you can’t understand why you have to come down; but when you come down the truth is waiting for you and slams your body down against the earth.

though we strain against
gravity’s chains, pushing up
just like Sisyphus
or Jack and Jill, we come tumbling
down to earth. it is one thing

to go up, but still
another not to come down
take a rocket ship
past the moon, go out beyond
the stars, flying weightlessly

there is still coming
down when the rocket plays out
at the galaxy’s
edge, motor and inertia
winding down. we cannot fly


It was a mix of childhood conceits, the towel tied around my neck, the S imagined on my shirt, and the fantasy flying. I remember it now, closing my eyes and seeing myself fly in defiance of all limitation. On a Ferris wheel once, stopped at the zenith, the gondola gently rocking on its old, heavily greased iron bearings, I was both afraid of dying but indifferent to the leaden world below. If it ended here, this was a hell of a way to go, so I stood up and rocked the gondola more, knowing it would never fall off, but at the same time terrified it would. This was what the existential edge felt like, and right then I knew there was no going back.

we are bracketed
by dreams and reality
the greatest pleasures
lasting only a second
but the memories live on

events in our heads
we feel and remember what
we felt, and moments
when the body spoke to us
live on in habits

buffeted by winds
through nerve endings and thinking
to put self together
nothing holds still, it all goes
through the wringer


1. Still shot from Elizabeth Streb’s SEA: Singular Extreme Actions, performed at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York (2–22 June 2019). A video, Streb SEA Promo, is available via the following link (retrieved on 5 July 2019):

Other videos of performances by Streb’s company of “action-hero dancers” may be viewed via the links below (retrieved on 5 July 2019).

In slo-mo:

Rehearsal of Ascension at the STREB Lab for Action Mechanics in Brooklyn; in this clip, Streb talks about her radical ideas, exploring for example, “What is the iambic pentameter of action?”:

One Extraordinary Day, visually stunning performances at a few of London’s famous monuments, as part of the London 2012 Festival commissioned by the Mayor in the run up to the Olympics Games:

2. Quotation by Elizabeth Streb, New York choreographer and founder of the dance company Streb Extreme Action and SLAM (the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics), is from her intro on the home page of her website (link was retrieved on 5 July 2019):

See also the TED talk “My Quest to Defy Gravity and Fly” in which Streb talks about redefining our ideas about human flight, the importance of learning how to land, and her invention of impact techniques and machines that help us fly, proving that “action is for all of us”:

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