SXSW Film Review: 'Born to Fly'

Dancers soar, slam, and crash to stunning effect in bio-doc

You'll need to revise your definition of "action hero" after seeing this adrenaline-pumping documentary about extreme dance choreographer Elizabeth Streb.

The members of Streb's Brooklyn-based company have moves to shame Hollywood's beefcake pretenders to the title. They routinely smash into Plexiglass panels, dive through panes of glass, dodge swinging cinder blocks, walk on walls, leap from giant spinning wheels, soar, and slam into the earth, all with an athleticism that's beyond Olympian and a grace worthy of ballet.

Director Catherine Gund shows how Streb pioneered this performance hybrid – part modern dance, part sport, part circus art – tracking its evolution from Streb's childhood fascination with physical endurance through her development as a choreographer in the Seventies and Eighties New York dance scene. Smartly juxtaposed with the past is Streb's present work in what she calls "popaction," testing the human body's physical limits and resilience like a scientist, with experiments that whirl bodies through space and smash them together like atoms in a supercollider.

Born to Fly captures fully both the danger in the work and the exhilaration the dancers get from it. Watching these athletic paragons perform gets the pulse racing, but not just from the risk; it's seeing bodies move in ways you know they never have in human history.

Born to Fly

Documentary Competition, World Premiere
Friday, March 14, 4:30pm, Vimeo

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South by Southwest, SXSW, SXSW 2014, SXSW Film 2014, documentary, review, Born to Fly, Catherine Gund, Elizabeth Streb, Fabio Tavares, dance, circus arts

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