I love watching Olympians compete for not only their athleticism but also for their shear grace, how easy and effortless and seamless they make every movement look. They fool you into thinking that you, too, could do what they do. Perhaps Diavolo hires former Olympians. How else could they pull off such super-human feats? Perhaps, as the company’s name suggests, it owes its spectacular athleticism to a deal with the devil himself. Whatever the means, the end result expands not only what dance can be but also what the human body can do.
Diavolo marked the end of the 2014-2015 season at Newman Center Presents, a season that Executive Director Steve Seifert cited as their most successful in the organization’s thirteen-year history, and what an end it made. Hailing from Los Angeles, Diavolo explores Artistic Director Jacques Heim’s interest in the architecture of space and how humans inhabit that space. Architecture and not simply space goes beyond props or set design in Diavolo’s work to become a character, a symbol, and/or a force to be reckoned with. Heim calls himself not a choreographer but “an architect of motion.” This architecture of motion extends to both the dancers and the massive structures on stage, structures that move and morph nearly as much as the dancers themselves.
The first half of Diavolo’s performance features “Fluid Infinities,” a work set to the music of Philip Glass and originally commissioned by the L.A. Philharmonic. Before the curtain rises, bleeps and radio voices take the place of music. Gradually you realize the sounds as those from space, NASA specifically. The curtains draw back to reveal a two-story tall tube circumscribed by dancers in jumpsuits and a single person climbing his way up the inside of the tube. A spherical, midnight blue, silky yet latex-textured mass with a black hole at its center sits ominously in center stage. The dancers timidly leave the safety of their tube and approach the mass. The black hole seems to swallow the mass’s skin as the gray, metal-like, pocked undersurface is revealed. The dome, with magnetic force, pulls the dancers to it, one by one, sucking some of them through it’s many holes. The scene vacillates between comedy and horror as the dancers grapple with the dome: sometimes they land butt-first in a hole, legs kicking like children, other times they struggle to push themselves free as if fighting for their very lives. But the dome continues to morph, revealing itself to be hollow and a quarter of a dome rather than a half. Throughout the performance the dancers swing between the holes with the strength and playfulness of gymnasts on the bars, they leap with the power and height of high jumpers, and they move in tandem with the surgical precision of synchronized swimmers.
The second half of the performance features “Transit Space,” a piece inspired by the skateboarding documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys. Fifteen-foot tall half pipes move throughout the space as the dancers breakdance, flip and twist and the poetic lines of street-wise skaters rise above the throbbing beats. The half pipes, just as the dome before, shift shape becoming bridges, slides, and giant shields that the dancers move so flawlessly over, under, around, between, and behind that they could probably do the whole performance blind. Again, the impeccable timing and coordination of the dancers as well as their explosive power coupled with balletic grace make this work a delight to watch, a delight so infectious, in fact, that the audience got out of their seats to dance and clap along with the dancers at the end of the performance.
A truly exhilarating performance on multiple levels, Diavolo at the Newman Center dazzles and amazes as the only the best athletes and entertainers can.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works for Denver-based art consulting firm, NINE dot ARTS, where she helps companies tell their stories through art. She sits on the boards of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Americans for the Arts’ ARTSblog, Daily Serving and KYSO Flash.