Photo courtesy of Diavolo.

Theater & Dance

Diavolo Brings Architecture in Motion to Dallas

The company’s founder has choreographed for Cirque du Soleil, but his vision is genre-bending.

Jacques Heim, founder and artistic director of the Los Angeles-based Diavolo: Architecture in Motion, grew up in Paris, a  rebellious “rascal” of a kid, always “searching for something,” he confides. His maternal grandparents had moved to New York, so after his teenage years Heim himself decamped to the United States. He attended Middlebury for theater in 1983, and found his way into dance. In the language of movement, he discovered his ideal medium—one that Diavolo, the dance company he founded in 1992 as a young grad from CalArts, will perform this weekend at Moody Performance Hall.

Since its inception over 25 years ago, the company, whose dancers’ backgrounds include tumbling, gymnastics, jazz and modern dance, theater, and martial arts, has questioned what dance is, what its edges and boundaries look like, where they lie, and where they overlap with diverse modes of expression or forms of identity. In 2004, Heim choreographed Cirque du Soleil’s show KÀ at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas. But his language is not at all trapezes and fluttering silks.

“It’s not quite modern dance. It’s not at all circus,” says Heim. “Architecture really is the essence of it. [It’s] the fusion of the vocabulary of everyday movement to a little bit of modern, a little bit of ballet.”

Architecture, says Heim, is “another language I’ve always loved.” After earning advanced degrees in dance in England and the United States, Heim found himself preoccupied with how to draw audiences to modern dance. He saw the blending of movement and structure as one solution.

“The architecture comes first,” he says, “then our movement.”

For the 1999 piece, Trajectoire, the first of a two-part program that will be performed this weekend, a seesaw, for example, takes the stage, a piece created by Daniel Wheeler, a sculptor and professor of architecture at the University of Chicago.

The way Heim and Wheeler approach this volume in space is similar to the way an architect thinks about structure, about shape and depth, mood and texture. They consider the way the dancers’ relationship to the object will change over a 30-minute piece. Once built, the structure is brought to the studio, where the dancers, “in a way like children,” says Heim, experiment, touch, and begin to intuit how it inspires them to move. (Beforehand the troupe will have talked about themes, such as destination and destiny.) Out of this fluid exploration of space, the beginnings of a work emerge.

Voyage, a new piece that debuts this weekend, will be a collage of three structures Diavolo has used in the past.

“The theme is a young woman who is lost and has decided to leave the real world. She enters this dreamscape to find herself,” Heim says.

The underlying narrative, he says, is about belonging and the ultimate quest “to find yourself, to eventually understand who you are.” The piece will involve structures that, Protean and shape-shifting themselves, transform: a door that takes on multiple valences, a cube that turns into a pyramid.

In the past, Diavolo has leaned heavily on esoteric music, beautiful and challenging. “This time,” Heim says, he realized there was beauty in branching out, in seeing how the music of contemporary artists like Moby, The Chemical Brothers, and Florence and the Machine might add to the tapestry of movement.

The company, which has always sought to push boundaries, is also in the process of reinventing itself, moving towards the choreographing of not 30-minute, but 70-minute immersive narratives. As the second company in TITAS’ current seasonal line-up, Diavolo brings an interesting take on the contemporary landscape of dance, one that is vastly different but equally as genre-bending as last month’s performance by Camille A. Brown & Dancers.

To watch for: in Diavolo’s cast of over a dozen dancers, look out for company member Kimara Wood. Prior to joining Diavolo two years ago, Wood danced with Dallas Black Dance Theatre and worked under Bruce Wood, founder of Bruce Wood Dance Company.