Gravity-defying Diavolo showcases ‘Architecture in Motion’
Dancing and leaping over large wooden and steel sets is one way to explore human beings’ relationship to architecture.
At least that’s what Diavolo does, and when the Park City Institute brings the dance company’s "Architecture in Motion" to the Eccles Center for a two-night run next week, audiences will see just how the sets affect the dancers emotionally and artistically, according to company member and marketing director Chisa Yamaguchi.
"Our set pieces and architecture are signature to the style and it is really quite different as a spectacle," Yamaguchi said during an interview with The Park Record. "The shows are enormous and lend themselves to really separating ourselves from the pack of the dance community."
Diavolo, which is directed by Jacques Heim, who formed the company 1992, will perform Dec. 28 and 29 and the productions will include two works, "Trajectoire" and "Transit Space."
"’Trajectoire’ is one of our oldest and most beloved pieces, and is, to us, what ‘Revelation’ is to the Alvin Ailey Dance Company," Yamaguchi said. "It epitomizes everything that is beautiful and grand about Diavolo. It is our legacy piece."
That means the dancers who are in the company today need to take care to maintain and perform the piece as close as possible to the original work that premiered 23 years ago.
"For performers to know that they will not be the last, nor have we been the first, to perform the work, there is a constant negotiation to maintain the integrity of the work, because there is a need of every performer as artists to establish their footholds in the artistic community and put their stamps on a company," Yamaguchi said. "There are different ways we can do that in subtle and magical ways. It is our job, however, when we perform under the name of Diavolo to carry the personalities of those who created the roles before us through the work."
That can be both easy and hard to do.
"When we feel that fear of performing this piece, all we have to do is remember that it has been done for years before we did it," Yamaguchi said. "There have been people who nearly killed themselves in putting this piece together and performing it through the years.
"On the other hand, there’s that old saying that it’s harder to maintain a championship than to win one for the first time," she said, laughing.
This becomes another challenge when new dancers come into the fold.
"We have to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are," Yamaguchi said. "That way we can actually place people in particular roles that they naturally fit. So as to not have them experience an overly tense adjustment period, but still get a sense of learning."
Performing "Transit Space" is the complete opposite of performing "Trajectoire."
"As much as ‘Transit Space’ has become a signature piece, it is raw, real and in-the-moment, and designed for every cast member to shine," Yamaguchi said. "They have to bring their biggest and brightest element to the piece. They get to show off and ham up exactly what they’re good at. They don’t have to change. They just need to highlight it.
"So, people who have seen the piece three years ago will not see the same performance next week," she said. "That’s exciting and keeps it fresh for us, which is the theme of the piece. This is true freedom."
Yamaguchi has danced with Diavolo for seven seasons and has enjoyed seeing many new dancers join throughout the years and she knows the type of dancers who fit best.
"Being a Diavolo dancer requires the discipline and training of a great technical dancer," she said. "We look for that and everyone in the company has some level of technical training."
But the dancers must also have abilities similar to an extreme athlete.
"The way we train and the rigor of the work requires an endurance that I know all dancers experience, but because of the unique nature of the pieces and that we work with architecture, there is a sensibility that is required to be aware of the space around you," Yamaguchi explained. "A lot of athletes have to have that as well because in their fields, things are constantly moving. Something may go wrong, so we have to have the ability to make confident and quick decisions that will keep everyone safe."
These decisions are key to the success and safety of the company.
"Everyone has to be on the same page and openly communicating," Yamaguchi said. "You will hear that on stage. We call each other’s names and have other verbal cues that are common in the pieces."
Although the dancers work hard to keep themselves and eachother safe, there have been some mishaps.
"As the company’s marketing director, I’m also able to go through the analytics of the company and I can say that 100 percent of the dancers who have performed with the company in the seven years I have been here have experienced one injury or another, but that they all have fully recovered," Yamaguchi said. "We have the standard ankle sprains and torn ACLs. But we also have a lot of upper-body issues because we’re pulling, lifting and shifting structures with our entire weight. So, we tend to experience shoulder and upper-back issues."
Some of the dancers, including Yamaguchi who is a certified yoga instructor, find different ways that serve as a balance to the extreme performances.
"If we need to push as hard as we do, there has to be, down the line, a period of rest and recovery to maintain and sustain a long career," she said. "I discovered yoga because of an injury and it has since become part of my regular repertoire in training. It is, to me, the complete opposite of Diavolo. It’s the Yin to the Yang. It’s peaceful. It’s centered and grounded. Diavolo in its nature is not that. And that’s what all of us as performers sign up for."
The Park City Institute will present the choreographed acrobatics of Diavolo’s "Architecture in Motion" at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Monday, Dec. 28, and Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $75 and are available by calling 435-655-3114 or visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org .
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