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On Center: Moving Architecture

by on December 01, 2014 9:49 AM

“At one point,” Portland Monthly’s Aaron Scott writes about a recent show he experienced in Oregon’s cultural capital, “the woman sitting next to me couldn’t resist saying out loud, ‘This is insane!’ in between her running barrage of ‘No way!’ Which pretty much sums up Diavolo’s performance; choreographed risk that will explode your stereotypes of dance.

“The company’s tagline of Architecture in Motion might not be poetry, but it’s an exact description of the spectacular, custom-designed, transforming sets and muscular but precise choreography that brought gasps from the audience on opening night.”

Jacques Heim, the French-born artistic director who created Diavolo in 1992, and his performers reinvent dance, reimagine theater, and redefine thrills. The troupe, coming to Penn State in January, uses abstract and recognizable structures as focal points in which performers come together to confront, challenge, and manipulate their environments.

The Los Angeles company combines everyday movements, ballet, contemporary dance, acrobatics, gymnastics, martial arts, and hip-hop to illuminate fear, danger, survival, chaos, order, deconstruction, reconstruction, destiny, faith, and love.

In 2012, Diavolo performed the world premiere of Transit Space, a work inspired by skateboard culture, at Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium. The company returns to Eisenhower on Tuesday, January 27, to perform an evolved version of Transit Space, which was co-commissioned by the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.

Transit Space has an infectious rock soundtrack … and a hip, contemporary vibe, thanks to its street-clothes costumes and the loose way the dancers hang about the stage,” writes a Los Angeles Times critic.

Heim created Transit Space with the help of 10 Penn State students who traveled to Los Angeles in June 2011 as part of a Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program collaboration called The Secret Life of Public Spaces.

Heim, who also came to University Park to work with students, says the Penn Staters were instrumental in changing his thinking about Transit Space, which was conceived as a 10- to 15-minute work.

“Now it’s basically one act by itself,” he says. “And that seed started with the Penn State dance students and the Penn State architecture and landscape [architecture] students coming to the Diavolo space and starting to brew the pot and starting to add elements to it. [They] basically opened my mind, and I realized, Wow, this is something not as small as we thought.”

The January 27 program also features Fluid Infinities, a 2013 production set on an abstract dome structure.

Fluid Infinities, set to Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 3 and NASA-control-center voiceover, is pure camp, and the work’s 10 performers are exceptional physical comedians,” writes Catherine Thomas for “Emerging from a translucent tube onto an alien lunarscape, they’re filled with tremulous wonder at a large cratered dome, only to get sucked into its portals as if by an unseen magnetic force.” 

The performers explore metaphors of infinite space, continuous movement, and humanity’s voyage into an unknown future.

“Add to this exceptional lighting design and the soundtrack of Philip Glass … and you have a show that’s downright cinematic [it’s no wonder that the company comes from LA — I’m not sure any other city could create this polished of an effect],” writes Portland Monthly’s Scott. “In other words, this show is more jaw dropping than Cirque du Soleil … .”

For tickets or information, visit or phone (814) 863-0255.

John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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