Diavolo Brings Their Awe-Inspiring, Nail-Biting Show to Touhill Performing Arts Center

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Diavolo—consisting of modern dancers, gymnasts, athletes, martial artists, stunt performers, actors, ballet dancers and more—brings their unique, high-flying fusion of dance and acrobatics to Touhill Performing Arts Center, featuring their mammoth set pieces of skateboard ramps, giant spinning wheels and other enormous curiosities.

Dance St. Louis, Diavolo, Trajectoire, photo by Ben Gibbs

Dance St. Louis presents Diavolo
Transit Space
photos by Julie Shelton

Artistic Director Jacques Heim creates a mash-up of dance, breath-taking acrobatics and architectural engineering into works that explore universal themes and human interactions. Heim choreographed Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas hit show show KÀ, though he adamantly stresses that Diavolo is totally different from Cirque. Whatever it is, it’s magnificent, and it’s playing for three performances only this Friday and Saturday.

Dance St. Louis, Diavolo, Transit Space, photo by Julie Shelton2

Dance St. Louis presents Diavolo
Transit Space
photos by Julie Shelton

ALIVE caught up with the French-born choreographer and visionary, who talked about how he created Diavolo, what motivates Diavolo’s performances, and his community outreach programs.

ALIVE: How did you come to form Diavolo?

Jacques Heim: That’s a big question. I grew up in Paris, France. I studied with a street theater group in Paris performing in the street, in parks, the subway—and then my family decided they needed to get out of Paris and go to the land of opportunity—which is America. Then in 1983, I went to Middlebury College in Vermont and went into the theater department, but my English at that time was so bad nobody could understand anything I was saying. I couldn’t perform Shakespeare, or many other things. I had a friend who suggested I go to the dance department. She said, “At least you don’t have to speak.” I really fell in love with movement. Movement is a universal language. So I decided to combine my two loves: Love of movement and love of structure. In a second life, I wish I could be an architect. So my direction really comes from architecture and that’s how Diavolo started.

ALIVE: What program will you be presenting at Touhill?

Heim: We’re going to bring two works. One is “Transit Space” and the other is “Trajectoire,” one of our signature pieces. The dancers have to be in the right place at the right time. People get thrown up in the air and they’ll hopefully be caught.

ALIVE: How do you describe what Diavolo does?

Heim: It is not really pure dance. It is not theater. It is not circus. It’s kind of this new language that I call “Architecture In Motion.” The structure—the architecture—comes first. What we do on stage is a live, abstract painting. It’s about human struggle, human condition, chaos, order.

ALIVE: Your shows aren’t just about amazing acrobatics and stage contraptions. Where do the themes you explore originate?

Heim: I am exploring my own personal journey. Sometimes it comes from a theme I want to explore, but sometimes it comes—most of the time, I will say—it comes first as the exploration with the structure. The 10 dancers move on it and choreograph themselves. I direct them and come up with the concept. We talk about patterns, space, motion, texture and materials. And through our conversation emerges a theme that I am interested about.

ALIVE: Diavolo is very involved in community outreach. Does that spring from your own experience as youth looking for a place where your talents and desires would fit in?

Heim: A little bit. Sometimes when you’re a kid, you don’t really know why you’ve been unbalanced or you’re having a hard time focusing at school or you need direction. So by creating many different workshop classes, not only for kids but also for adults, I look back to what I received or what I did not receive. Movement is a great way to create confidence in yourself. It’s what my company is all about: Trust, teamwork and individual expression. Those are things I needed in my childhood.

ALIVE: What will people love most about the Diavolo performance?

Heim: It’s a very unusual work. Even though we don’t pretend that we invented everything, there’s a great fusion of architecture and movement on stage, and it’s a work that I think everyone should come to see. There’s something mesmerizing about it. It’s exciting. It’s about those ten dancers giving to one another, trying to make it happen; how they work, how they survive. Sometimes the work is about the teamwork and this community that it’s forming on stage. That’s why the audience is so often captivated—not only about the work but what they see between those five men and five women. It’s not pure dance, it’s not theater, it’s not circus; it’s kind of a modern language.

ALIVE: How is combining several art forms advantageous?

Heim: At the end of the day, everything has been done before. This kind of fusion—of architecture, movement, performance—it really makes something a little richer. And a little different.

Presented by Dance St. Louis, Diavolo appears at the UMSL Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on Friday, Feb. 28 at 8pm and Saturday, March 1 at 2pm and 8pm For more information, visit the Dance St. Louis website.

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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