Monday, March 19 , 2018, 7:58 pm | Overcast 57º


Review: Diavolo Takes Dance to New Dimension

L.A. troupe expands the scope of what's possible in Granada performance

Seeing dynamic Los Angeles-based dance company Diavolo makes one believe that Artistic Director Jacques Heim has somehow found a fourth physical dimension, allowing his dancers to perform feats not ordinarily possible within the standard three.

Friday evening’s Diavolo show at The Granada contained several examples of this phenomenon. Part dance, part martial arts, part Cirque du Soleil-caliber acrobatics — in fact, Heim has choreographed for Cirque du Soleil — the troupe seems to expand the boundaries of human physiology as well.

In “Fearful Symmetries,” part two of a trilogy of dances commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and destined to be completed in 2013, the company performed on a surface at a tilt of about 45 degrees. Really, who have you ever seen do that? They also manipulated large rectangular structures weighing hundreds of pounds. Starting out assembled as a giant cube, these modular pieces were eventually moved apart and configured in varying ways, often on this slanted surface.

John Adams’ music had a dramatic, Broadway score sound, reminiscent at times of West Side Story. The dancers seemed to personify cogs in a machine, industrial workers and perhaps prison guards and inmates. Dark and intense, this 30-minute piece set both the thematic and physical bars high.

In the second half of the program, several shorter pieces were presented. “Bench” exhibited the dancers’ proprietary impulses toward a lightweight metal bench, which became more confrontational and devious as each attempted to stake his or her claim to it. With elements of slapstick as well as the dark side of human nature, this piece also showcased the performers’ ability to do so much with so little, as they climbed and leaped onto the bench and one another in increasing frenzy.

With “Humachina,” they again brought out the big guns, set wise. Starting with a few dancers on a large wedge-shaped piece made of open metal framework, they eventually brought out three more of these and attached them to form a giant wheel. Dancers then clambered up, hung from and jumped off of this structure in myriad fascinating ways, as it rolled. Leaps from high places into the waiting arms of their fellow dancers appear often throughout Diavolo’s work, and this piece included several spectacular occurrences of this.

“Knockturne” shifted the energy into a more intimate direction to portray a “love duet on and around a door.” The two, indeed, employed a door and frame onstage, chasing each other in and out and climbing up onto the frame. This piece had acrobatic elements as well, but in a much softer, gentler manner.

“Tete En L’Air” translates to “head in the sky.” In this final piece, Heim was inspired by surrealist French filmmaker Jacques Tati to portray the isolation of urban-dwelling citizens in the modern world. A giant staircase was placed onstage, and dancers in dark business clothes hurried up and down it in increasingly creative ways — stepping on one another, laying their bodies down on the steps and then leaping up and down them like salmon, and at one point forming sort of a human waterfall, one dancer sliding headfirst as those lying on the steps rolled her down.

Then there was the fourth dimension again — the horizontal surfaces of the steps opened up. Now, dancers were descending into the steps, only to pop up elsewhere. These hatches opened and closed with increasing fervor, dancers handing one another jackets, hats and roses through them and then disappearing.

The final moment, with the hatches closed on the empty steps and roses pushing up through the cracks, appearing to grow, was a delight. Perhaps there is hope, after all, that even when life seems dark and dreary, we can find that extra dimension of beauty and joy.

— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.

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