Diavolo promises an amazing dance experience

DIAVOLO DANCE THEATER — Fearless Athleticism on Stage (Elazar C. Harel)
DIAVOLO DANCE THEATER — Fearless Athleticism on Stage (Elazar C. Harel)

It's not exactly dance, it's not theater, it's not Cirque du Soleil.

What Los Angeles company Diavolo does offer includes elements of all that plus its own personal touch.

The group, performing three shows at the Gallo Center for the Arts next week, is expected to be a highlight of the Modesto venue's season.

"What Diavolo is doing is completely unique and unlike anything that people will have seen before," said Gallo Center Executive Director Dave Pier. "When they performed at the Edinburgh Festival, they received the Best of the Fest award because people were blown away by their

work — it's that special. People who see this show will be amazed."

Founded in 1992 by Jacques Heim, the company creates movements that aren't just visually appealing but are metaphors for the struggles of the human condition. While their performances can be enjoyed as entertainment by children, adults will notice commentary about the challenges of relationships, the absurdities of life and the struggle to maintain humanity in the technological world.

The name Diavolo has several connotations, according to the group's Web site. "Dia" is Spanish for day and "volo" is Latin for "I fly." Diavolo also was the name of a Russian avant-garde circus performer who in the 1920s did outrageous stunts on a bicycle.

In a phone interview, company member and Danville native Renee Larsen said one of the reasons she wanted to join the group was because of its interesting creative process. While Heim comes up with the concept, title and theme for each dance, the entire company creates the movements. The performers improvise different movements until Heim thinks they come up with the right ones.

Larsen helped create "Foreign Bodies," which will be performed in Modesto. A metal sculpture changes from a hollow cube to a platform bridge to three pyramids. According to a press release: "This metamorphosis brings the audience face to face with a life cycle set in dangerous times, where a communal birth slowly evolves into a quickly changing landscape that literally pushes people around."

Another piece on the Modesto program is "Tete en L'Air," which uses apples, umbrellas and covered-head imagery from the paintings of Rene Magritte. Performers come in out of trap doors and ski, sled, roll down and jump off a staircase.

Like other members of the company, Larsen has multiple skills besides dance. She is a gymnast and also has done martial arts. Some of her colleagues also are rock climbers and acrobats.

"This company is great for me because of the training I have," she said. "I was never satisfied with plain dancing. It combines all of my personal traits. I love theater, I love acting, I love dancing. I'm strong and athletic. Regular dancing wasn't that inspiring to me. I call it a full-body experience."

She said audiences across the country respond well to what the company does.

"It's kind of an ooh-ah reaction," Larsen said. "People say we take their breath away. People jump out of their seats a bit because it's exciting. I hope they're inspired to get up and move and do what we do."

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or lmillegan@modbee.com.

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