On Saturday night September 19th, Diavolo’s Artistic Director, Jacques Heim, began the evening with a personal introduction to the show stating that he intends to make his company the “great destination” in LA for dance and the performing arts. Though he made a joke about not enough people coming because they’re all too “lazy” to make it out to Northridge, he still has full confidence that in the near future they will have flocks coming to them. He sets the bar high for his expectations and goals for what will become of his company and dancers, but his aspirations may not be farfetched.
Diavolo’s performance is a new way of movement. When watching the dancers it’s easy to want to call it dance, but it’s not quite “dancing”. Maybe Parkour? Gymnastics? Freerunning? Or perhaps acro? But there is no one category, or even two that this style fits into, because it’s all of them. When looking at the bios for the dancers, they all have different skills that you normally don’t see in dancers, such as: bodybuilding, cheerleading, martial arts, and much more. All of these different forms are so well melded together that it has to become a new style of dance which has yet to be named. Not only are all these things mashed together, but then we incorporate enormous set pieces of which the dancers constantly move through the performance. Some of these set pieces weigh from 800-5,000 pounds! What is this new style called?! Give us a name Heim!
Heim’s inspiration came from his fascination with how we interact with our environment, specifically our architecture. There’s this reality and wisdom exuded from each piece where you can see that Heim’s has spent endless amounts of time studying how these relationships/dynamics. Heim’s way of expression is unique. I would describe the style of storytelling, set design, music, lighting, and choreography as ABT’s classic performances gone into the world of Le Miserable meets Prometheus. All of the pieces have their own story, it may take until halfway through the performance to see them clearly, but when you do, you realize their genius.
The journey started with showing how the dancers were being grabbed, comforted, supported, pulled, pushed, and molded to the architecture, symbolizing that human beings are surrounded by endless objects to which they are controlled by and have a relationship with; humans are formless without the shapes they create. Then it continues on to how we become attached to certain places that we come to claim as our own, even though we have no real evident ownership, merely emotional attachment. When we see that someone else has inhabited or staked claim to our ‘spot’ we become aggressively territorial, but life goes on and endless amounts of people that you will never have awareness of, come and go through this spot. No space is ever yours, for someone has already lived in it, even for just a second, and chances are someone will come after you.
During the next act there was a more corporational view including construction, power, military, and even gender challenge. A piece went from construction workers building which included a supervisor while the other dancers conducted set pieces to fit with each other and move loads of materials from what felt like B2B, to the CEO’s and high power people using skyscrapers as a means to establish dominance and power, competing to be on top, pushing, grabbing, and shoving each other until someone made it to the top and stood like King Kong on top of the Empire State Building, on to the military fighting for more money and to defend what has been built using huge rectangular shaped blocks as tanks to aim at their enemies. To finish there was a gender fight. A dance with men and women being in love, and bonding like couples dating, but soon shifted to the classic, but tastefully subtle depiction of men drinking at a bar, laughing and acting like hot shots only to have a woman catching them in the act and challenge their animalistic behavior pushing them around as if to say ‘who do you think you are? If you want to see strong, I’ll show you strong.’
The third act was different from the last two. It began in Space. Men and women coming from out of a spaceship on to the moon, but the moon sucks them in with a magnet gravitation pull turning them into to these alien like moon creatures that are forced to adapt and live within the moon. They explore a new world which most would say is the traditional dance piece of the whole show. This is the most visually pleasing section of the performance, the costumes were light and easy on the eyes, but form fitting so we could appreciate the artist physic or paintbrush if you will, there lay a mirror on the floor adding an extra dimension on top of the backdrop that has vibrantly displayed the dancer’s shadows the whole show, the moon set piece glows in the dark creating this sense of comfort and relaxation as the dancers showcase their beautiful lines and extensions. In the end they make it back to their spaceship ready to fly home.
The show is dark, inciteful, eery, and hardcore. The dancers never stop moving, in a way however, the set pieces are the main character, so much so that at times it feels frustrating that they are being used so much; there is a great hunger to see dance in it’s simplicity after the eyes are focused on something large, cold, and sharp in continuous movement. It would have been nice if there was a time when the dancers could show us themselves without the blocks, and domes, and various shaped objects, it became slightly tiresome to see them move these props relentlessly. In addition to the sets, designed by McClusky LTD, the backdrop, though it is a nice touch and adds another layer of movement, can be distracting, especially when the dancers are at top speed, it feels like watching large flickering candles hectically dance in the background when you’re trying to focus on the main event. The lighting done by John E.D. Bass and Evan Merryman Ritter, was fantastic, though further luminosity would have aided and soothed our strained eyes from the darkness and occasional bright LED lights . The live musicians with New West Symphony, and conductor Christpher Rountree, were perfect, they gave that extra support and guidance in what should be felt at each moment. The choreography was gorgeous in detail with some unique partnering and shapes. However, my full admiration, respect, and awe goes to the dancers. These dancers are soldiers, they deserve awards for their strength, stamina, craftsmanship, and performance quality.