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Spiritually and stylistically, there’s more than a little bit of Montreal’s circus and dance sensibility in Diavolo.Sharen Bradford

  • Diavolo
  • Genre: Dance
  • Director/Choreographer: Jacques Heim
  • Company: DIAVOLO/Architecture in Motion, presented by Alberta Ballet
  • Venue: Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium and Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
  • City: Calgary/Edmonton
  • Runs: Jan. 16-18 (Calgary); Jan. 21-22 (Edmonton)

DIAVOLO/Architecture in Motion might advertise itself as a Los Angeles-based dance company – and one of its claims to fame is placing in the Top 10 of America’s Got Talent on NBC – but spiritually and stylistically, there’s more than a little bit of Montreal’s circus and dance sensibility.

The company made its Canadian debut last week at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary, on a night when the wind chill made it feel like -39 C. That didn’t deter a few thousand diehard dance – and America’s Got Talent – fans from showing up. Diavolo features two pieces that the group’s founder and artistic director Jacques Heim describes as a show to “explore the relationship between the human body and its architectural environment."

The Montreal influences of Diavolo are hinted at in the creative pedigree of Heim (as a choreographer of Cirque du Soleil’s 2005 production of Ka), but more broadly Montreal’s dynamic circus culture, which is the epicentre of a kind of globalized interdisciplinary performance style that Diavolo feels very much a part of.

The Montreal influences of Diavolo are hinted at in the creative pedigree of choreographer Jacques Heim, but more broadly the city's dynamic circus culture.Sharen Bradford

These are shows that use acrobatics, multimedia, music and movement, and tell stories minus much in the way of text (although Diavolo does feature an omniscient voice-over narrator from time to time).

Here, Diavolo blends contemporary dance, acrobatics, music and gymnastics – the dancers spend every moment negotiating a series of physical sets designed to disrupt. Heim (a Parisian whose grandfather of the same name co-invented the bikini) also lets French philosophy ooze throughout the performance in a way that’s kind of awesome.

Blending together ideas, physical language and obstacles against a vivid soundscape – Heim described the show as a kind of performance “salad” – is not a half-bad strategy for creating a pair of performance pieces that articulate the great human contradiction: our desire to explore unfamiliar territory juxtaposed against our struggle to remain connected to our communities.

The first piece, Voyage, takes as its launching point the 1969 Apollo flight to the moon, which becomes a kind of metaphor for the journey of one young woman’s coming-of-age quest.

The first moments of Voyage are stunning – a kind of reproduction of the roof of an Apollo-looking capsule, lit to suggest it is floating unencumbered through space, while we listen to Neil Armstrong’s first words playing throughout the auditorium, prompting the young woman to set out taking a great leap forward herself.

Heim describes the show as a kind of performance 'salad' –blending together ideas, physical language and obstacles against a vivid soundscape.George Simian

That shines through in both Voyage – where a voice-over narrates about the perspective of looking down on Earth from outer space and seeing not the differences and the petty conflicts, but the overwhelming majesty of the planet – and the exhilaration and terror that the character experiences over the course of the piece. (“Haven’t you ever just wanted to be lost?” the narrator asks.)

The architecture in the name of the company comes into play throughout Voyage, as dancers slither in and out of the space capsule through holes, and at another moment, take flying leaps off it, a representation of the idea of a great leap into the unknown. With a soundscape that blends a kind of pop-rock feel, propelled forward by a steady percussive backbeat, Voyage is about the backpacking part of everyone’s life, when there’s not so much as an itinerary as an impulse.

The sense of a quest is there in a different mood in the second piece, Trajectoire – a lovely word meaning path – which is danced in a trio of scenes featuring the company attempting to navigate what appears to be a listing ship. (In reality, it’s a 14- by 17-foot rocking boat.)

Trajectoire feels very much like a migrant story – a journey that just might be a lot more trouble than it’s worth that so many millions of people have been forced to make over the centuries and are still making as they pursue new lives in new worlds.

If Voyage is permeated with a sense of possibility, then Trajectoire is about how to navigate the rough seas of reality.

Whether it’s the quartet of female dancers moving in synchronicity to a classical cello, or when a single male dancer attempts to navigate increasingly rough water, Trajectoire manages to capture the essence of the human condition that everyone in the audience, who braved weather you can die in to come see a dance performance, could comprehend: No matter how rough the water gets, you soldier on.

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