Diavolo Dance Theatre

Written by:
Alyssa Schoeneman
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Diavolo company members perform in “Humachina”

Diavolo Dance Theatre

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana, Ill.
Oct. 5, 2010
(See company’s touring schedule here; see video clip below.)

If anything can be said for the 10 members of Diavolo, it’s this – they have character.

The company presented a hybrid of dance theater and parkour-style athleticism at its Krannert Center performance. The combined use of props and daring acrobatics evoked feelings of fear and awe for audience members, while somewhat overdone facial expressions and gestures conveyed a clear storyline in many of the evening’s pieces. “Fearful Symmetries”, “Humachina”, “Knockturne” and “Tête en l’air”, in addition to a surprise performance of “Bench”, composed the evening’s program.

“Fearful Symmetries,” a piece co-commissioned by the Krannert Center and Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, kicked off the night in extravagant form. Throughout the piece, company members manipulated a deconstructed box, which evoked memories of “Tetris” in its multiple reconfigurations. The dancers seemed to live in a state of transition, constantly propelling their bodies through the stage space by way of climbing, leaping and rolling. Moments of unison choreography seemed somewhat out of place during this piece, due in particular to one dancer’s audible counting and to the immediately presentational quality of the movement that, until then, lacked a frontal focus.

Diavolo surprised the audience with the addition of “Bench” to the second half of the program. The piece was choreographed by members of the company and featured the group fighting for control of – as the title suggests – a bench. Assisted lifts and leaps punctuated the choreography, as did moments of chasing and screaming; an overall lack of tentativeness in movement made the narrative of the playful but somewhat aggressive piece almost believable.

Recognizable by its industrial, oversized wheel, “Humachina” seems to be Diavolo’s trademark piece. A study in weight and momentum, company members surf over the center of the wheel, counterbalance with one another while on opposite points of the circle, and even engage in a “partner cartwheel” of sorts. Though this piece was visually interesting, certain parts were distracting in an aural sense; company members were again audibly counting in an effort to stay together during an early unison section of choreography. The use of such coarse methods in performance implies a lack of rehearsal by the company, which, as evidenced by the specificity of Diavolo’s choreography, does not seem to have been the case. Company Director Jacques Haim would fare well to rethink the inclusion of this amateurish tactic in future performances.

For viewers who saw Diavolo’s Krannert Center performance in March 2008, “Knockturne” may have felt a bit shorter this time; the piece used to consist of two separate duets that take place within a doorframe, but the company performed only the second duet at this year’s show. The duet that was performed summarized a “six-year relationship in six minutes,” as suggested by the female dancer in an address to the audience during intermission. The choreography showcased the pair’s ballet training through the inclusion of arabesques and splits. It also highlighted the dancers’ upper-body strength; they constantly wove their bodies in and out of the doorframe using what appeared to be candlestick holders as supports.

“Tête en l’air” produced a “Casablanca” vibe in its costuming and lighting choices; the piece’s first scene featured a male dancer in a trench coat, suit pants and a hat, standing on a backlit, fog-cloaked staircase. The stairs became a transitive prop throughout the piece, at times channeling a jack-in-the-box and at other times becoming a coffin of sorts. The company explored themes of love, lust and desire, with an increasing degree of seriousness as the piece progressed; what began as cat-and-mouse relationships acquired a “behind closed doors” character with the introduction of full-blown makeouts and sensual woman-on-woman pursuit. These moments were interspersed with displays of physical fortitude, including a military-like log roll drill on the stairs, and a series of dancers descending the stairs on their backs, while simultaneously reading newspapers.

Diavolo certainly has something for everyone – and if nothing else, they’ve got character.

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