ARCHITECTURE IN MOTION (PIFA/Diavolo): Dance review

Republished by kind permission from The Dance Journal


Before the court of Louis XIV, acrobats were creating some creative movement dance DNA and contemporary troupes are picking up that tradition. Philadelphia International Festival of Arts (PIFA) has been heavy on cirque acrobatic dance troupes and this year the main draws were Cirkus Cirkor’s Knitting Peace involved trapeze and tightropes hidden in a recycled yarn and the Los Angeles based company Diavolo’s Architecture in Motion which boasted equally elaborate production design.

Diavolo all but filled the Merriam Theater, some in the crowd recalling their previous appearance in Philly 11 years ago, but most first timers. Diavolo’s artistic director Jacques Helm gamely warmed up the crowd, telling them they could use their cell phones to tweet photos during the performance in between checking in on the Flyers game.

Helms conceived and directed Diavolo’s “Fluid Infinities” (2013), scored to Philip Glass’s Symphony no. 3, with the choreography credited to the whole company.

The looming dome center stage designed by Adam Davis, at different angles and depending on the dynamic lighting by John E.D.Bass, can look like a space craft, moon craters or meant, for your consideration, as infinite portals of imagination.

Photo by Mara Zaslove.

Photo by Mara Zaslove.

The dancers first appear climbing through a clear 20 ft tube like a space crew and are in the shadow of the dome as its silvery cover gets sucked through one of the portals. From there the troupes’ bodies seem to magnetize and gravity becomes relative via the strength and agility of theses dancers who are then over-under-sideways-down with this orb faster than you can say, Houston we have a problem. Eventually vanishing into it. Seconds later as the shell pivots, they emerge transformed and now garbed in costume designer Brandon Grimm’s matted flesh bodygloves with satin codpieces.

New world, new dances from spacey geometric vignettes a la Busby Berkeley to quicksilver flash duets that keep flowing into unexpected movement ideas that proved just as compelling as the gravity defying lifts. Eventually the dancer daredevilry takes over, fiercely, with each dancer displaying their acrobatic specialties- vaults, dive layouts, suspensions, to name a few. As the Glass score gets more propulsive, the set merges to symbolize creative infinity.

Next, “Cubical,” in contrast, is a dance cartoon about earthbound limits of a group of office employees carting around grey crates that are reconfigured to depict desks, cityscapes, stairs, a train in motion, but mostly, a worker’s claustrophobic hell cell. Choreographed by company dancer Leandro Glory Damasco, it depicts the mental and physical monotony of the daily grind. A bit retro looking with office workers smoking and pantomiming using a manual typewriter and licking envelopes and rails of florescent lighting hover menacingly.

Witty and predictable office scenarios – politics and seductions -are played out with a lot of hopping around and cube scrambling, in predictable ways, however clever, lumbers on to make the same point. The piece uncorks when the workers revolt and start to shed their business drag down to colorful Ts and bras and booty shorts and bathing suits. They liberate themselves and so Diavolo dancing really begin, all too joyously, even cathartically, but alas all too briefly.

Helm introduced each Diavolo dancer at the end and there were lusty shout outs from the audience for UArts alums Ana Brotons and Connor Senning who are touring the globe with this company. Read more PIFA reviews by Lew Whittington from The Dance Journal >>

[Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street] April 14, 2016; kimmelcenter.org.
***Architecture in Motion photo: courtesy of Diavolo
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About the author

Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

Lewis Whittington’s articles on the performing arts have appeared in several print and online publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Advocate, Dance Magazine, American Theatre Magazine, Huffington Post, Playbill and Stage Directions.