LA’s native dance company, Diavolo is turning 25 this year and last weekend, took to the stage at The Broad to showcase two remarkable pieces, one classic (Trajectoire) and one new (Passengers). It was the most fun I’ve had at the theater all year and so heartily recommend that you take any chance you can to see this company in action! Sign up for their newsletters, follow them on social, but put them on your in-town bucket list. The shows we watched lasted approximately 30 minutes each, and are suitable for kids in middle school and older.
The signature feature of Trajectoire is a rocking stage, fashioned by local artist Daniel Wheeler, that comes to life as a lively element of the dance itself, a type of boat that the dancers mount and rock by dashing back and forth on the upper surface. They also slip off through side openings like water from a plate, or dangle from a side rail like a child on the monkey bars. When they occasionally throw themselves off the rocking stage, leaping like circus performers into the arms of their colleagues, the audience lets out a surprised breath but collapsed back to sighs of enjoyment as the dancer plopped to the ground, only to haul herself back onto the rocking boat once more.
The performers must dance on a constantly moving stage, balancing like sailors on the seas, while going about their finely-tuned motions. (In fact, we were told that the dancers often threw up during early rehearsals of this piece). Watching them roll and pivot about the stage, I realized they must have special velcro-like shoes on, to keep from sliding down the polished wood. The joyful movement of bodies atop the stage was often contrasted with potentially dangerous poses of other dancers who were lying on stage near the rocking contraption. Like a finely calibrated watch, the motion of the boat and the bodies was a lesson in precision and beauty.
Both Trajectoire and Passengers employ similar unique elements, characteristics that distinguish Diavolo from other dance companies. First, Diavolo defines itself as “Architecture in Motion” which effectively means that the sets stage itself is part of the story: most dances feature moveable architectural structures that sit on the traditional theatrical stage. In the two shows we saw, the element was manipulated by the dancers into an ever-changing and new shapes upon which the dance was performed. More than just a back drop for a story told through motion, the stage is the centerpiece, a changeable object element in the dance. Secondly, the sculptural stage element provided stunning visual elements that, paired with the dancers in motion themselves, make for a completely immersive experience. Company director Jacques Heim provides an original, indelible tale of the body in space.
The signature architectural element of Passengers is a train-like contraption that begins looking like the doors of a factory, with dancers pouring out from work, then converts to a noisy high-school bleachers set, which dancers race up and down, sitting in each others laps and play-acting adolescent dramas, dressed in colorful play-clothes. Next, the bleachers turn into an airport baggage carousel, with suitcases and bodies tumbling repeatedly down the front. And finally, as the wings of the bleachers are pressed back together, the whole set becomes a train, with windows and doors. The dancers, now clad in all grey jumpsuits, throw themselves around the stage, joyful and imperiled at once, landing finally with a darker mood that speaks to work in this post- industrial age.
The company itself must be remarkably fit to perform with the rigor required to move and perform with the stage elements. Mesmerizing sequences contain both parallel movement and opposing actions, so the eye is never lulled into complacency. Part hip-hop, part modern dance, there is no single-descriptor that defines the style of dance other than purely athletic. Some dancers came from collegiate sports, others from traditional dance companies, but the diversity of movement means that the company hails from non-traditional backgrounds and likely adds to the excitement of the performance.
Diabolo Dance Company – Click here for more information
The Broad Stage // 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica CA 90401 — wonderful FAMILY WORKSHOPS all fall, and excellent programming for families, including National Geographic programming through out the year.