News Column

Diavolo is dance in the abstract

February 27, 2014

By Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Feb. 27--Those who dismiss the scribblings of music critics have often resorted to a putdown that's been attributed to everyone from Elvis Costello to Frank Zappa: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

To which Jacques Heim would likely respond: What's wrong with dancing about architecture?

Heim is founder and artistic director of Diavolo, the Los Angeles-based dance troupe that Dance St. Louis will present this weekend at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. And architectural structures -- such as a 15-foot staircase and an 18-foot spinning wheel -- are essential to his choreographic sensibility.

"Basically, what we do onstage is a live abstract painting," Heim says. "There's not really a story, per se, but there are themes that run through all our pieces -- such as the human condition, chaos, order, fear, danger, survival, destiny."

In short, Heim says, Diavolo is "architecture in motion." The ensemble includes not only dancers adept at styles from ballet to hip-hop, but also athletes gifted in gymnastics and the martial arts.

"I'm interested in the interaction between the human body and the architectural environment, and how that is affecting us not only socially, but emotionally and physically," says Heim, who is also known for choreographing the Cirque du Soleil show, "Ka."

A native of Paris, he says the idea for Diavolo (which means "devil" in Italian) has roots in his experiences as a young man in the City of Light.

"I was a rebel, so I started a street theater group -- performing in the street, on top of cars and in the subway, and getting arrested," Heim says. His interested in dance got a boost when he moved to the United States.

"I went to Middlebury College in Vermont," he says. "And I went to the theater department. But that was in 1983, and my English was terrible -- nobody could understand me. So I had some friends in the dance department who told me, 'Jacques, why don't you come and take some dance classes? At least you don't have to speak.'"

With its emphasis on painting stage pictures, with the human body as one of the colors on the palette, Diavolo might appear to be similar in approach to Pilobolus and MOMIX. But Heim says that in this case, appearances are indeed deceiving.

"The process is completely different," he says. "MOMIX does many pieces on a bare stage. With Pilobolus, sometimes it's all about the bodies. Diavolo is about the architecture."

What Diavolo --When 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday --Where Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 8001 Natural Bridge Road --How much $35-$55 --More info 314-516-4949 or; 314-534-6622 or


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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

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