Diavolo moves beyond ballet in Beaver Creek | VailDaily.com

Diavolo moves beyond ballet in Beaver Creek

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

Diavolo is playful and deep, all at the same time.

Founded by Jacques Heim, a Paris native who started out as a street performer, the Los Angeles-based dance troupe uses large set pieces to make social commentary. Diavolo will share its special brand of mischief with Beaver Creek audiences Tuesday night at the Vilar Performing Arts Center.

Physically, the dancers fly into the air, slide and climb.

“We are like children playing on set pieces,” dancer Renee Larsen said.

Symbolically, they probe weighty themes like man’s relationship to the machine or the loss of individual identity.

In one act, dancers negotiate a 3,000-pound boat, using the rocking motion to catapult their bodies into the air. “At journey’s end, the piece shows the transcendence of the human soul against all odds,” according to the group’s Web site.

Critics often compare the troupe to Cirque du Soleil, and while the shows are separate entities, Heim choreographed “Ka,” Cirque du Soleil’s newest show, which opened in Las Vegas in 2005.

Diavolo’s dancers bring a wide range of skills to the stage. Larsen trained as a dancer, gymnast and martial arts student before joining Diavolo.

Dancer Garrett Wolf mastered gymnastics and joined cheerleading squads at his high school and college in Alaska. When he auditioned for Diavolo eight years ago, he proved his dancing and tumbling skills, as well as his chin-ups and push-ups prowess.

Altogether, Diavolo consists of five women and five men between the ages of 23 and 33. The troupe comes to Beaver Creek as part of a national tour that began in September and ends in May.

Dancers rehearse in a warehouse in Los Angeles, where they master their giant sets.

“Working on the sets themselves is really challenging because they are absolutely heavy things that do have sharp edges and steel poles,” Larsen said. “It’s not uncommon to have bumps and bruises. It’s very, very physical work. There’s no denying that.”

Whether they are dismantling a giant cube or using their bodies to turn a nearly 12-foot aluminum wheel, the dancers test the limits of their bodies.

Dancers are constantly working on new moves. When Heim comes up with concepts, he often assigns dancers homework. To flesh out “Foreign Bodies,” an act using a large cube, he asked the dancers to write down words they associate with the concepts of “home,” “family,” “foreign” and “identity.”

The resulting acts combine dance with yoga, martial arts and acrobatics.

To pull off the moves, dancers must learn to trust one another. “We jump off the set pieces, and blindly fly into your catchers’ arms,” Larsen said. “It’s exhilarating and exciting and a little scary at the same time.”

Dancers say they build this trust by practicing and traveling together, along with goofing around off the stage.

“We’re very close-knit, very much like a family,” Larsen said. “When you’re trusting people with your life on stage, you instantly bond.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.

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