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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

Diavolo takes dance to new levels

By Ana Paula Hofling
Special to The Advertiser

Gone are the days when audiences were impressed by frail, dainty ballerinas who, precariously balancing on the tips of their toes, were whisked away by not-so-invisible wires into a few seconds of sylphic flight. Those were the thrills of 19th-century theatrical dance.

In the 20th century, choreographers rebelled and explored new ways of moving — ways that were relevant to their reality. Martha Graham developed an angular technique that rejected the ballet aesthetic, and the post-modern movement stripped dance of all artifice, virtuosity and even technique itself.

Much has happened since post-modernism. Today, dance seems to rely more and more on the very things the post-modernists abhorred.

Diavolo, the dance company brought to Honolulu last week by Leeward Community College Theater, represents a new trend in contemporary dance. The company proved to Hawai'i observers that virtuosity and spectacle are definitely back in style.

The Los Angeles-based company, under the direction of Jacques Heim, is among a handful of dance companies today to choreograph in this adrenaline-packed style of concert dance. The company blends gymnastics, capoeira (a Brazilian martial art played to music) and contemporary dance movement into a fresh, exciting whole that keeps even the most skeptical on the edge of their seats. The ensemble is strong and precise, emphasizing power and teamwork.

Heim's work can be compared to the works of Elizabeth Streb and Deborah Colker: all three choreographers work with dancers who also are athletes — strong young men and women who climb walls like geckos and throw themselves from alarming heights like pelicans. They also share a fascination with large structures — fantastic, yet sometimes surprisingly simple, sets on which the dancers are free to explore gravity in unexpected ways.

Their works allow us to vicariously experience the thrill of moving fearlessly and impeccably, gracefully, as we would in our dreams.

In the program performed at LCC, for example, Diavolo's dancers effortlessly climb a near vertical wooden wall in "D2R I" by holding on to horizontal pegs. In "D2R II," the same wall comes back, but this time, images of tall buildings are projected onto it and the climb is aided by ropes.

In "Trajectoire," the set, designed by Daniel Wheeler and engineered by Dan Williams, is a work of art on its own. Imagine a cross-section of ship's hull, made out of wood and big enough to fill a large stage. The structure is, at first, gently rocked by the weight of the dancers who run and slide from one side to the other, instantly achieving the illusion of a ship in turbulent waters. When you think that the possibilities of what can be done on a rocking ship have been exhausted, Diavolo's superhuman dancers begin to find ways of sliding on and off the structure. Finally, they begin throwing themselves into the air using the momentum of the rocking ship, diving into precisely choreographed trajectories, with no safety net other than their mutual trust.

The thrill that the audience experiences with Diavolo is not exclusively because of the tricks and the dancer's virtuosity: The dances have a flow, a rhythm, a seamlessness that have the ability to transport the viewer to another realm, a realm where the physical possibilities are endless, where humans can truly fly.

Ana Paula Hofling is completing her MFA in choreography at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.