It’s either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid to willingly fall flat on your face again and again, until the bridge of your nose is bleeding and taped up. The doctors warned you that this type of impact will harm your body. And you know too many friends and teachers who have broken limbs perfecting this craft. You’ve already ran through all the awful scenarios of everything that could go wrong. Yet you still climb the 40-feet of scaffolding and take that leap of faith, completely trusting the command of choreographer Elizabeth Streb.
Directed by Craig Lowy, his 100-minute documentary “OXD: One Extraordinary Day” captures what it’s like to be one of Streb’s PopAction dancers in the Brooklyn-based Streb Extreme Action Dance Company.
Filmed by Lucas Smith and Raul Santos and edited by Lucas Groth and Lowy, “OXD: One Extraordinary Day” invites us to be a part of Streb’s crew as they prepare and perform “One Extraordinary Day” — a seven-part series where Streb and her crew canvas the city of London landmarks as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiads.
Rather than focus on a fluid and seamless transition from one move to the next, these dancers work to defy what the human body’s capable of. Streb tells her dancers that she wants their bodies to behave exactly like a piece of plywood when they free fall off of 30 feet of scaffolding parallel to the mat. She tells her dancers to hide the transitions, so the human eye sees one move and another, but never how they get there. While bungee-jumping off the Millennium Bridge and dangling off of the London Eye, these dancers feel like superheroes, performing moves called “Superman,” “Spiderman,” “X-Man” and “Peter Pan.”
Although “OXD: One Extraordinary Day” shows us death-defying stunts, the special effects are surprisingly spare. In a few scenes, we see the camera rewind so that the falling dancers look like they’re flying in slow motion; these scenes are few and far in between. For the most part, we see their stunts in real time as Lowy spends much of the documentary building up that extraordinary day.
Four months of practice, preparations and performance are edited down to 100 minutes, but the documentary contains too much exposition, removing the suspense and magic of the actual performance itself.
The dancers tell us about how much adrenaline it takes to get through these performances, but the camera doesn’t show us what it looks like to hover more than 200 feet above any solid ground. Lowy’s camera is either too zoomed in or too zoomed out and we feel disconnected rather than in the moment.
As a result, the viewer feels safe and protected, harnessed and secure. And when that extraordinary day comes, the performances are disappointing.
It’s a shame, really. While Craig Lowy’s documentary captures such an intriguing world, its edits are poorly executed, splatting hard on the floor and failing to get up.
“OXD: One Extraordinary Day” was directed by Craig Lowy and had it’s Western New York premiere as part of the tenth Buffalo International Film Festival.