Monday, February 07, 2005

PREVIEW: High Flying Diavolo Dares to Redefine Dance

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Diavolo isn’t the average dance company. In fact, some might say, it isn’t dance at all. A fusion of dance, theater, acrobatics, potent visuals, and high flying land this LA-based company in the hybrid world of movement-based visual theater. What ever it is, it’s breathtaking, completely original, and it may have you holding on to your seats. It’s refreshing to see some dare-devil dancing during these fear infused times. Diavolo flies full force on to the Cullen stage this weekend to present two of their most acclaimed works, Tete en L’Air (Head in the Air), and Trajectoire.

Diavolo founder and artistic Director, Jacques Heim, wandered from theater to dance at Middlebury College. “My English was so bad, I heard in dance class you don’t have to speak,” remembers Heim. “I fell in love with the people there and they took me under their wings.” Dancing on a bare stage held little interest for Heim. His early work was characterized by how the human form interacts with everyday objects like chairs and tables. “I used lots of props. Architecture is also important to me; I was getting ideas from walking the streets of New York City.” Heim continued his studies in dance/theater at Cal Arts.

These days, Heim’s work begins with an idea for a structure. He collaborates with sculptor Daniel Wheeler (and other sculptors) to create a structure that is ripe with potential interaction with human movement. Once the sculpture is built, it’s play time at Diavolo’s warehouse studio. Over the course of a month Diavolo dancers develop the work based on play-based improvisations with the structure. In speaking with Heim, it seems as if the structure itself has a voice. In Trajectoire, a large rocking boat-like structure becomes the precarious base of support for a tribe of movers set sail on an unknown course. Diavolo values teamwork and collaboration at every stage in the process. Heim directs the process as the choreographic credit goes to the entire company.

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Tete en L’Air involves a Magritte inspired staircase. This is no ordinary set of stairs. They’re for falling flying, and skiing. At one point, the stairs open up to reveal that murkiest of mysteries of what lies beneath the stairs. The language of coming and going, and endless distraction moves in and out of the dance. It’s up to create the narrative or simply enjoy the play of moving paintings. Diavolo is not interested in finishing the story for us. Evocative images become food for the imagination.

Diavolo dancers represent an eclectic mix of dance training including ballet, modern, and gymnastics. This is not a company for the fearful set. “Dancers need to take responsibility for their own actions. Sure, sometimes they get hurt. So they go to the emergency room, get some stitches and return to rehearsal,” remarks Heim. They are also well versed in the inner workings of each structure and often are the ones that set it up and take it down. The structure can be unpredictable based on the weather and other circumstances. “The structure has a mind of its own.”

Heim’s unique method of creating work attracted the attention of Cirque du Soleil. Heim has just completed setting a Diavolo like show in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel. Ka opened last week to rave reviews and involves a gigantic rotating platform. With a budget of $165 million and a cast of 70 and some incredible technology, Heim has able to try out his method on a grand scale. “It’s like Diavolo on steroids,” jokes Heim.

Heim’s work poses a fundamental question, “How does the human form interact with its environment?” To find out, I suggest you show up next Saturday. If you are wondering about the name, “Diavolo,” here’s the scoop. “Dia” is Spanish for the word "day," and Greek for "through, across, from point to point." “Volo” is Latin for “I will fly.” Trust me, they do.

Society for the Performing Arts (S.P.A.), presents Diavolo on Saturday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m., Cullen Theater. Call 713-227-4SPA or visit