Diavolo Fuses Dance and Gymnastics

Founded by a Cirque du Soleil alumnus, this Los Angeles company pushes the limits of the human body.

By Adam Castañeda January 5, 2015

Diavolo: Architecture in Motion
Jan 9 at 8
Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St.

It’s hard to forget the image of human bodies hurling themselves off a giant seesaw-like apparatus into black nothingness. Or the moments when bodies hang, slide, and cartwheel back and forth on a surface that follows the trajectory of a pendulum. That sort of daredevil acrobatics is just another day in the life of a Diavolo dancer. The Los Angeles company returns to Houston on Friday as part of the Society for the Performing Arts’ Tudor Family Dance Series and will perform Trajectoire, one of its signature works, alongside Fluid Infinities, one of its newest pieces.

Under artistic director Jacques Heim, a veteran of Cirque du Soleil, Diavolo is a dance troupe that draws its movement from sources beyond traditional ballet and modern dance. As seen in Trajectoire, in which the company maneuvers the aforementioned seesaw mechanism, the dancers are also very much gymnasts. In many cases, they literally are. Chelsea Pierce, a UT–Austin graduate, grew up as a full-time gymnast and didn’t take up dance until high school. “I needed that creative outlet that gymnastics didn’t give me,” she told me. “But gymnastics trained me in the discipline that I needed for a dance opportunity.

Image: Mara Zaslove

That opportunity came as a dance major at UT. Pierce’s professors, who recognized that she was more than just a graceful dancer, pointed her in the direction of Diavolo. “I saw the company in February of my senior year in college at [UT’s] Bass Concert Hall,” Piece remembered. “I went with all my dance friends, and I was really excited because I had taken a master class they had put on at the university. When I watched their show, I was in awe. I thought to myself, I hope I can be that kind of dancer.”

So what makes a successful Diavolo dancer? Handstand push-ups, for starters. After a two-hour solo audition that consisted of multiple technical and acrobatic combinations, rep work, and a strength test, she was told to get stronger. Three months of training later, she had a successful audition and was sent to South Korea for Diavolo boot camp, which consisted of 20 shows in 25 days.

Of course, Diavolo offers more than just strength-based choreography. For all its technical wizardry, Trajectoire also evokes the peaks and valleys of the human experience, of the continual battle to maintain a solid grip on life. And speaking of mirrors, Houston audiences will be excited to see Fluid Infinities for the first time. “The set is basically an abstract dome structure, and it’s fixed on a mirrored surface,” said Pierce. The choreography promises to be an endless flow of bodies in motion, which not only showcase the beauty of the human form, but its infinite possibilities of physical expression. 

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