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Diavolo mixes extreme athleticism with the abstract

Observer Scene | Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dia: Greek for “from point to point.” Volo: Latin for “I fly.” Diavolo: an abstract dance group under the artistic direction of Jacques Heim who the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center will be hosting this weekend. They will be performing their new and original work “Foreign Bodies.”

The 10-member dance company was founded in Los Angeles in 1992 by Heim, and the company carries more than a dozen works in their repertoire. Diavolo is not just composed of dancers, but also gymnasts and actors that bring a new dimension to the performance. The performers must be extremely athletic. The sets are creative and surreal and add a critical element to the show. Diavolo’s dance routines emphasize both teamwork and individual expression.

Heim’s mission is to offer a new perspective on everyday relationships, actions, troubles, decisions and the constant struggle of humanity. This is why many of the props used are every day objects like doors and chairs.

“Although no two Diavolo pieces are created identically, they do always start with a passionate idea born out of artwork that moved me in a certain way, or an exchange I watched between two people on the street,” Heim said.

Heim doesn’t draw the choreography straight from his mind but rather lets it develop by giving his dancers an improvisation period with a certain set. The piece then largely emerges from the dancers’ interaction with each other and the set. Diavolo encourages trust, community and brotherhood. The different members of the company perform rather risky moves, but they are supported through the net of teamwork.

Diavolo tours internationally but is most famous in California. They are one of the leading modern dance companies in the Los Angeles area. Lewis Segal, a dance critic of the Los Angeles Times, said that Heim is “a creative force in the community, someone with both a compelling vision and the ability to inspire others to uncompromising performances.”

Diavolo will perform a number of separate dances during the show this weekend, all of them contributing to the theme of community and humanity in the modern world. “Foreign Bodies,” the piece that will premiere at Notre Dame, will take the audience on a journey through mankind’s evolution. The scenery will be constantly shifting and transforming to reflect man’s ever-changing environment. Next, Diavolo will perform “Tete en L’Air,” which is French for “head in the sky.” The theme of this segment is the isolation people feel with the modern world, and the barrier technology creates resulting from a lack of intimacy with fellow humans. “Knockturne” is a love duet centered on a set of a door. D2R-A represents the hardships of war, and the dancers even feign wounds that affect their dancing ability and range of movement. After a twenty minute intermission the company will finish the show with “Trajectoire,” which is set on a 21st Century Galleon. This dance explores the ideas of surviving in a rapidly changing society and competing with destiny.

Contact Sara Felsenstein at sfelsens@nd.edu.