Trust and creativity drive Diavolo’s ‘Transit Space’

“What is Diavolo?” Jacques Heim, artistic director of Diavolo, asked his audience during the Friday, Sept. 28, premiere of his new piece, “Transit Space,” at the Broad Stage Theater in Santa Monica, Calif.“If Diavolo were a salad, the recipe would be: a little bit of everyday movement, a little bit of ballet, modern dance, gymnastics, acrobatics, martial arts and hip hop,” he explains. “Add large props and abstract structures, tweak the whole thing, and voilà! That’s Diavolo.” “Transit Space” is completely different from other Diavolo pieces. It explores the theme of feeling lost, finding a sense of purpose, and coming together. Influenced by the documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” the piece uses skateboard ramps and half-pipes as a way to represent an urban environment with emotional and physical spaces that are constantly shifting. They paint a live abstract masterpiece with a body language that speaks to the audience through movement and individual expression. Danger, human struggle, chaos, deconstruction, and reconstruction are only a few themes expressed throughout “Transit Space.” What makes “Transit Space” so unique is that the dancers created it. Heim gave his team of collaborators creative freedom to construct props, stages, and dances. “The structure always comes first,” Heim explains. Sibyl Wickersheimer designed the set of four skateboard ramps with detachable parts, while Mike McCluskey designed the props. Once the structures were created, they were sent to Diavolo’s warehouse-like space in downtown L.A. There, performers gathered and played “like children on a playground.” Also, taking cues from teen skateboarders in the Santa Monica and Venice areas, the dancers created their own tricks. “Creation is my favorite part of dance, and Jacques gave us the freedom in creation, to be ourselves which is very cool,” performer Crystal Runk said. “He really pulled from each person as he didn’t want any of us to be like the person sitting next to us,” she said. “He really wanted us to be us on stage, and what makes the piece so fun is that every single night we go on stage, we are creating again because we are living in the moment.” A feeling of camaraderie is palpable on stage, as if the performers have known each other forever. “We spend most of our time together, engaging with everyone during our warm up and rehearsal every day, and some of us are even roommates,” said Runk. Working as a team, the dancers evolve dynamically, forming a community on their own. Complicity, trust, and support give rhythm to each of their moves on stage. Interacting with large architectural structures, dancers skittered up, slid down, jumped over, and threw themselves into the void. These elegant practices often present risks, but inspire the audience as the highly athletic moves are always performed with excellence. “We have to trust each other off stage in order to trust each other on stage. It just doesn’t work without that,” Runk said. Superintendent and President of Santa Monica College, Dr. Chui L. Tsang, attended Friday night’s show and was taken aback. “It’s fantastic. I’m exhausted just watching it. I feel like I just ran a marathon or something like that. It was very high energy and very innovative,” he said “Heim presented a very entertaining show .” For the first time in Diavolo show history, voice-overs by scriptwriter Steve Connell were incorporated in order to match the sound effects with the movements. To achieve this, David Beaudry designed motion sensors, which were attached to dancers and props. “It gave a lot more power to the performers; they actually have control of the show in their own environment. For example, every time performers went up and down the ramps, it would trigger the sound effect of a car zipping by,” explained Beaudry. Michel Bayan, who has followed the troupe since 2001, liked the addition of voice to this particular piece. “It makes ‘Transit Space’ very different because it offers a more tangible meaning, it becomes less abstract because it has words,” he said. Bayan went on to say, “I love what they do because there is so much feeling in it and you can feel how this kind of art touches people, it touches people in spite of themselves. Even the hardest most blocked people will still be touched. It brings out the soul of the person to watch their art. And that’s a beautiful thing.” After its first time coming to the Broad Stage Theater, Diavolo will perform again on October 6, for the opening of Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. From January to June 2013, Diavolo will take a national and international tour to Colorado, Wyoming, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, as well as an international tour of Guatemala, the Netherlands, and Germany. For more information and tickets, visit