The Marriage of Architecture and Dance

written by Robyn Wyman-dill

 

It’s Bastille week. When the flavors of France come out and dance in local bistros in celebration of Independence Day. Perhaps, it is the shared ideals of the French and American Revolutions and our common-colored flags – billowing in the wind with patriotic blue, white and red washes – that keep our French-American relationship evolving positively. And why the great portrait of Marquis Lafayette, a Frenchmen, has been hanging in the US House of Representatives chamber – since 1830. Over two centuries, the American-French cultural, historical and economic exchange has continued to get better.

Yes, indeed. The US has seen an immigration of the highest standard in terms of artistic enrichments from our French-speaking friends. Like Louisiana cuisine, Dijon mustard, French-trained chefs, exquisite French wines and Trader Joe’s pop-up sponges. While the lavendar fields of Provence cross the pond in soaps and fragances, the Tournées Festival brings contemporary French cinema to American college and university campuses every year so that more than 500,000 students can fall in love with French films. Oh la, la.

Lucky for Southern Californians, their weather seems to suit French creativity.

When Cirque de Soleil first came to LA, the company had just enough money to cover a one-way ticket for their performers. But, when Angelenos went to see them, they went wild. Their 1987 Los Angeles Arts Festival performance attracted the kind of critical attention that sent Hollywood a knocking. The French-Canadian powerhouse for theatre arts has been raising the bar on entertainment ever since. And then there’s dance.

If the gravitational waves could hear the sound of amazement rising in skies, it would be coming from audiences watching the dance company, Diavolo, founded by French Choreographer and Visionary, Jacques Heim. This company has been dazzling audiences around the world and re-envisioning modern dance in southern California for a quarter of a century.

If you have never seen a Diavalo performance, you are missing out on a most riveting, artistic collaboration of music, lighting, architecture in motion and powerful dance ‘in conversation’ with each other.  Warning. Watching this interplay will cause you to experience transcendence.UnknownAll works are original.

The art scene was standing in the shadow of Hollywood when Diavolo started out in LA, in the 90s. Undaunted, Heim soldiered on, blazing a trail through new turf. (In the 50s, Heim’s grandfather made a splash, introducing the 2-piece swim suit which became an international sensation when Brigitte Bardot wore one of his designs.) Heim’s fearlessness at the helm and dynamic creative slant earned Diavolo a reputation that few dance companies have been able to match.

The journey to becoming a poster child for creative innovation requires a lot of careful planning. In the midst of rehearsals and 2016 world tour, Marketing Director Chisa Yamaguchi, shares the process to achieve all that magic – onstage.

“Jacques’s theme of revealing how we are affected emotionally, physically and socially by the spaces we inhabit as we traverse our daily lives is the dialogue we strive to create through dance movements.”

The first phase of the creative process generally takes about 12-18 months to conceptualize. During that time, Heim will research a load of visuals before he begins to draw out the structure with his production designer.

“Jacques always begins building upon his concept of using dance to explore the relationship between the human body and its architectural environment with a set piece in mind.”

Then it may take up to 4-5 months to manufacture the structure before it is even introduced to the dancers.

“Jacques wants the architecture to speak to each one of us and allow the dancers to discover what surprises them as they interact with the structure.”

Unlike most dance companies, each dancer here is required to bring their own creativity into the dance and design their own choreography. During the second phase, Heim will invite the dancers to explore their dance movements with the structure, bringing a hybrid of disciplines – like gymnastics, acrobatics, ballet and modern dance – together to define the theme and tone. Generally, it takes a couple of years for the dancers to choreograph and feel confident with the structure and another eight weeks of rehearsals to finesse their dance segments – once the piece has been set.

“Although we tend to work with the same wheel house of core people, it really is an exceptional and unique opportunity for a dancer to be given an open playing field to create their own dance movements for a master work with a choreographer like Leandro Glory Damask Jr., for example.”

The works are meant to be a journey between vulnerability and control where the triumph of the human spirit against overwhelming odds isn’t just performed, it is felt.

I attended the world premiere of L.O.S.T((Losing One’s Self Temporarily), showcasing the Diavolo dance troupe’s thrilling physicality last May. The ‘dance of catching up to modern day life’ using a train set piece to advance time in Passengers was joyous. While Cubicle conjures up a modern day version of the storming of the Bastille as the monotomy of corporate America comes to life as a moving reflection of Escher’s Relativity drawing. And, because Diavolo aims to uplift its audience, these conflicts end well.

After completing his studies at CA ARTS, (Where he developed the concept of architecture in motion with dance) Heim remained in LA, to establish Diavolo in the early 90s, with the help of an extaordinary talent pool of fellow students. Heim also took his concept to the world’s largest art festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where Diavolo would receive the right amount of critical acclaim to continue the artistic journey

While the art scene was standing in the shadow of Hollywood when Diavolo started out in LA,
undaunted by uncertainty Heim soldiered on, blazing a trail through new turf. (In the 50s, Heim’s grandfather made a splash, introducing the 2-piece swim suit which became an international sensation when Brigitte Bardot wore one of his designs.) Heim’s fearlessness in his work – inspired by his grandfather’s fearlessness in his work – earned Diavolo a reputation for a unique style of dance theatre that few dance companies can duplicate.

Now that LA has emerged as a new frontier – in terms of world art centers – it is the perfect time for Diavolo – which likes to push boundaries to grow artistically – to shine more brightly. Yes, indeed, the US is blessed with an immigration of the highest standard in terms of artistic enrichments from our French-speaking friends.

For more information about Diavolo, the Veterans Project – which encourages members of the Veterans Community to engage in movement workshops, artistic creation and collaboration as well as participate in a fully produced performance alongside DIAVOLO professional dancers for the first time ever this year – and to learn more about Diavolo’s educational and community outreach programs.

www.diavolospace.com
www.diavolo.org
616 Moulton Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90031
Phone: (323) 225-4290

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