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Diavolo: Bounding Innovation

Sara Felsenstein | Monday, February 2, 2009

Walking into the Decio Mainstage Theater in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) this weekend, many people were simultaneously excited and unsure about the dance company’s, Diavolo’s, performance. Excited, because the company is known to be outstanding, but at the same time unsure of what to expect. The DPAC Web site said that Diavolo “[propels] the evolution of dance…to make the arts more integrated within the mainstream of America.” It was clear that they were not a traditional dance company, and that the performance would be somewhat abstract. But what exactly were they?Judging from the reactions of the audience, (the gasps during the dances and the enthusiastic clapping after), the performance was unlike any most people had seen before. Diavolo was a masterpiece of athletic ability, teamwork, expressiveness, and above all, creativity. The lingering question among audience members post-performance was: how did they come up with this? According to artistic director Jacques Heim, “We get a croissant some espresso, and start talking … about how we feel today.”The show began with Foreign Bodies, an original work co-commissioned by Notre Dame. As the curtains rose, the audience saw twisting hands coming out of holes in a very large cube. Soon the dancers were popping in and out of the set, constantly moving, it seemed, to their own rhythms. The dance was not synchronized – each dancer was doing his or her own routine, but each contributed to the whole. After a few minutes, the cube was broken apart and transformed into three pyramid-shaped figures. The set kept transforming in response to changes in the music and each time it did, the dancers interacted with the set and each other differently. The intensity rose as the twenty-minute piece wore on – the dancers were climbing, flipping, and lifting one another up in a display of strength and athleticism.The second piece was called Tete en L’Air, which is French for “head in the sky.” The theme of this segment was the isolation people feel with the modern world. Each dancer was dressed in a business suit and a hat that partially covered their eyes. The set this time was a large staircase positioned in the center of the stage. The dancers ran up and down the stairs, crawled across them sideways, and even did back flips off the top of the set into the arms of a few fellow dancers. The aura of the dance was reminiscent of a New York City street – despite the thousands of people around, no one seems to have the time to acknowledge one another. Similarly, the dancers carefully refrained from making eye contact with one another to portray this sort of isolation. The effect of the ending was both powerful and ominous. All the dancers left the set except one man, who stood on the top. The lighting was dark and the man’s fedora was over his eyes. He falls backwards off the top of the staircase into darkness and the music ends.The final piece was set on a ship that rocked back and forth – harder at the crescendos, and slower during the more sensitive movements. This was the first piece to offer a significant amount of synchronization between the dancers – first between the men, and then the women, but the abstract nature of the show was certainly not lost. The dancers were constantly sliding on and off the set but the transitions were so smooth that one would not even notice they were gone. The 30-minute piece ended as one female dancer reaches into black smoke in total isolation, bringing the theme of the show full circle.The performance was outstanding, and there was no one dancer that stood out more than another. The irony of the show was that despite its theme of isolation in the modern, technological world, every number necessitated an extraordinary amount of teamwork and trust from the performers. And there was constant uncertainty about what they would do next that was invigorating to watch. “We put it together like a puzzle,” Heim said. “There’s an unknown zone every night.”