Diavolo tumbles in for a visual feast

Diavolo Dance Theatre performs Saturday at the Phillips Center.

Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 12:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 12:20 p.m.



WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday WHERE: Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 315 Hull Road, UF campus TICKETS: $15-$25; $10 rush tickets may be available day of show.
A free performance discussion will follow the show.
Performers also have included Tai Chi experts, rock climbers and gymnasts, in addition to those with more traditional dance backgrounds.

L.A.'s surreal, visceral Diavolo Dance Theatre is set to transform the Phillips Center stage - and not figuratively - Saturday night. A free discussion will follow the performance by this company with the mysterious name.
Dia, Spanish for "day," is also Greek for "through, across, from point to point." (Founding Director Jacques Heim would have us know that dia is also the first syllable of Diagilev, the great, great, grand ballet master, and that Heim himself is Diagilev's great-great-grand nephew. But maybe that's pushing it.) Oh, and Volo is the Latin "I fly."
In name and spirit, Diavolo works to rephrase the lexicon of the dance world.
"We perform for people who are longing for a different kind of movement," Heim noted in a press release. "Our work is not modern dance. It's not jazz. It's not ballet. It's a mixture of gymnastics, acrobatics, stunts and everyday movement ... nothing is narrated. There's no story ... I leave a lot of room for the audience to use their imagination and create a story."
Some argue cheerfully that Diavolo is more theater than dance, and some in the cast are - at their core -actors. Performers also have included Tai Chi experts, rock climbers and gymnasts, in addition to those with more traditional dance backgrounds.
This accounts for much of Diavolo's reputation for interdisciplinary, physically risky thrills. The company's sleek, stylized fox logo looks like it belongs on a poster for an action movie.
Indeed, Heim contends his work strives to be "a cinematic experience" (yes, he's from L.A.) while turning inward to ponder the individual caught in a vast, often-detached environment (yes, he's originally from France).
This Parisian in America is ambitious, and it's working for him: In 1995, Diavolo performed at the Edinburgh Festival - the world's largest performing arts extravaganza - to rave reviews. The company was deemed "Best of the Fest" by The London Independent and received "Critic's Choice" from The Guardian.
Heim has been included among Buzz Magazine's "100 Coolest People in L.A." and the Los Angeles Times' "36 Faces to Watch."
But does it work for everyone?
I tend to be wary of grand-scale theatrics, preferring the subtle to the slick and not taking much comfort that Heim's resume includes choreographing Cirque du Soleil's newest show in Vegas.
Diavolo, created in '92, has been compared to Cirque du Soleil as well as the Blue Man Group. Heim cites the choreography of Elizabeth Streb and Pilobolus as inspirations.
There are about 20 dances in Diavolo's repertoire, and the company's creative processes are collaborative and highly guided by group improvisation - this I love.
Heim first determines the set for each new work's foundation. Oversized sets and props are intrinsic to his method.
His 10-member company will experiment on the set for six weeks or longer until a theme and movements are synthesized. Selecting or commissioning music is the final touch.
Six dances are on the Phillips Center bill. One, "Atom," premiered in 2005. Others have been dramatically reset over time, and all are subject to Heim's customary revisions that can alter a work from any given performance to the next.
In "D2R -A," the set is a vertical wall of dangerously protruding bars. "Phantome" opens a large, august doorway. In "Humachina," a giant, simple wheel takes over the stage. "Trajectoire" puts the dancers upon a rocking set suggesting a ship's hull.
"Origin" flaunts the largest sculpture you will ever see onstage, period.
Whether taken as pretentious or magnificent, these gigantic metaphorical structures are the Diavolo medium and, at face value, a very urban, contemporary one: Stuff is cool; size matters. But can you really reflect on Heim's intended symbolism when you're on the edge of your seat, stilled by breathtaking tricks on super-cool stagecraft?
Or does it matter?
Finding out for yourself should make for a highly interesting, entertaining evening.
Sarah Ingley can be reached at Scene@gvillsun.com.
Check out Thursday's Scene Magazine section of the Gainesville Sun for more entertainment opportunities around town.

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