Seeing Diavolo– “I Felt Like A Kid Again”– Franz Knupfer

Props to Diavolo. Their sets aren’t elaborately painted backdrops but highly functional and whimsical pieces of art. In “Fluid Infinities,” dancers explore a Swiss cheese moon. In “Trajectoire,” dancers rock wildly back and forth on a circular wooden ship that threatens to overturn or even capsize. Diavolo’s Artistic Director Jacques Heim describes his choreography as “architecture in motion,” and in this sense, the dancers are builders of intricate routines that involve weaving over, in, and around these incredible sets.

Let’s start with the moon. The stage lights brighten on a lunar surface, a dome covered in shimmery material. Dancers climb up through a tube that could be a rocket ship or a passageway from deep beneath the surface of a planet. I felt like a kid again as they climbed from the tube and surveyed this moon rock—just as in my childhood, a few simple objects had evoked a rich world of space travel and exploration.

Traditionally, dance has been about defying gravity—dancers leap and are thrown through the air, giving the audience the sense they are participating in an art form that’s both weightless and ineffable. And while Diavolo has plenty of gravity-defying leaps, once the lunar surface is revealed in “Fluid Infinities,” gravity takes over. Dancers find themselves pulled towards this hemisphere and through holes in its hollow surface. Soon the dancers become used to this new terrain and leap and climb across it.

Dancer Chisa Yamaguchi initiates a lovely motif when she lies on her back, her arms and legs simultaneously robotic and fluid as they slice the air above her. Other dancers repeat the motif, evoking insects on their backs or new and alien life forms being born.

As much as I loved “Fluid Infinities,” “Trajectoire” was even more impressive. A piece of art can be both pleasing to the eye and functional, and the ship in in “Trajectoire” is tremendously functional. I marveled at how many things the dancers could do with it and how dynamic the ship became, how they could rock back and forth on its surface or climb through its interstices or be catapulted from its deck through the air. If this ship were playground equipment, kids would never get on slides or seesaws again.

Like kids, the dancers in Diavolo look like they’re having lots of fun. They make tremendously acrobatic movements look fluid and easy, and they rely on strength, balance and athleticism even more than they do on grace. If I had to distill my feelings for Diavolo’s performance to just one emotion, it would be exhilaration. The entire audience was gasping when dancers literally plummeted from the deck of the ship, belly first, into the arms of fellow dancers. They’re no longer just dancers but sailors on a floundering ship, and by the end of “Trajectoire,” a single dancer remains on the ship, cast adrift. For all its leaps, “Trajectoire” has some gravitas, too.

“Architecture of movement” should be a paradox. Most structures are rooted to the ground. Engineers and architects work together to make sure the buildings we live and work in don’t twist and move beneath us. Yet Jacques Heim shows how a structure can attain a life of its own, and in the case of the ship in “Trajectoire,” become a dancer in its own right. Heim also describes his work onstage as being like a “live abstract painting.” This should be another paradox—paintings don’t move—and yet somehow Heim makes it true.

Franz Knupfer

Seeing Diavolo– “I Felt Like A Kid Again”– Franz Knupfer