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Flash Review 2, 1-6:
Existentialism a la Gus Giordano
Diavolo's Mixed Bag of Thrills
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2001 Rosa Mei
Jacques Heim's world
is filled with objects. Staircases, tires, sleds, skis, the hull
of a boat, ladders, benches and people flying through the air. Like
his influences, Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte and French
filmmaker Jacques Tati, Heim specializes in a unique brand of visual
thinking reflective of modern society and the absurdities of human
behavior. Heim's choreography for Diavolo, his L.A.-based company
of ten, seen Wednesday at the Joyce Theater, reveals a man who finds
poetry in street traffic patterns. He leads the audience through
a tunnel of non-sequiturs to see the fireworks in the harbor, the
fireworks being a non-stop barrage of dancers bounding through the
air, frenetic push-pull pop action for the masses. The fireworks
are everywhere. The problem with fireworks is that, sometimes, too
many can be as numbing as too few. It's a sensory overload that
results in white noise monotony.
Heim's attempts to make
his work profound seem to be a bit at odds with his desire to thrill.
On the one hand, he uses stark symbolist imagery to represent specific
types of people in strained situations. People squabble over ladders
and bench space. A man folds a woman up and puts her in his suitcase.
Then, there's the catharsis. Let the audience experience the high
of propulsive, non-stop tumbling and free flight, a happy opiate.
It's the kinesthetic equivalent of an adrenaline rush that lasts
for 20 minutes at a time. Darkness transitions to light almost too
easily, as if all the inner demons were just bubblegum conversation.
Heim's obsession with semiotics as well as the extreme thrill of
freak flyers makes his work resemble an odd mix of Disney and Sartre.
I'd like the lo-cal angst, please.
Heim credits Magritte
and Tati as the primary influences behind his 1994 signature piece
"Tete en L'Air," in which dancers descend a giant staircase in a
parade of urban archetypes. French comic genius Tati designed his
films as a series of escapades, a veritable symphony of sight and
sound gags; Heim creates a cinematic montage of human relations
designed with impeccably timed visual humor. Following a European
dance-theater tradition, the piece begins ominously, dancers appearing
in dark suits and descending the stairs like a slow conversation.
A woman emerges from a suitcase. Two men wander off. Two more appear
in bowlers (a nod to Magritte), while another plays the accordion
and another reads the newspaper. A man sleds his way down the stairs
while a woman skitches her way down atop a tire. The dark sinister
elements give way to playful abstractions, like bodies bounding
through the air while the staircase opens to reveal trap doors within.
In the end, a man appears atop the stairs and raises his arms Broadway-finale
style. Life is a cabaret, old chum.
Similarly episodic and
chaotic is "Trajectoire," where dancers become travelers on an apocalyptic
journey. The magnificent set designed by Daniel Wheeler and engineered
by Dan Williams is a massive cross-section of a ship's hull, an
abstracted 21st century galleon that dips and sways with the weight
of the dancers' movements. Part Noah's Ark, part Titanic, the ship
becomes a symbol of the passengers' difficult journey. Meegan Godfrey,
a dancer with fiery intent and primal rawness, a female Sisyphus,
emerges from the crossbeams below the ship's deck to perform a playful
dance with her shadow/alter ego. The people come and go talking
of Michelangelo. Bodies collide and slide overboard. The dancer/athletes
rock the boat, then succumb to the vessel's sways. A few cloying
cliches sneak in -- dancers rolling on the floor like waves, hands
reaching out to grasp the hand of falling victims -- but all is
forgiven for the grandeur of the waltz.
Less successful are Heim's
prop pieces -- "Apex," with its red ladders and "Le Siege" with
its red benches. In "Tete en L'Aire" and "Trajectoire," the dancers
are subsumed by a set piece -- first, a massive staircase and, later,
a ship's hull. When the sets are reduced in size to props handled
by the performers, the magic depends on the deft manipulation of
objects. In "Apex," the shuffling of ladders falls just short of
seamless, and the dangling between ladders is not quite precarious
enough to make you gasp. Nor does the movement contain that Streb-like
thrill of impact, making it more banal than breathtaking. Similarly,
the benches in "Le Siege" support a rather standard fare of push-pull
partnering. Amidst the dancers' knowing looks and coy glances at
one another, you have an endless cycle of pose-push-pull-throw-jump-pose.
At times, the perky daredevils resemble one of those cheerleading
drill squads on ESPN2. It's existentialism a la Gus Giordano.
Nevertheless, the dancers
themselves, though not the most plastic elastic movers, win the
audience over with their go-for-broke attitude and utter fearlessness
in flight. It's not quite poetry in motion, but Jacques Heim's daring
attempts to make poetry from motion set him apart from the pack.
His works to date seem to overuse effects for the sake of FX, following
in the footsteps of many a Hollywood blockbuster action thriller.
But Heim's a risk-taker, and I'm looking forward to following his
next string of feats in the years to come.
Diavolo performs again
today and tomorrow at 2 p.m., tonight at 8 p.m., and tomorrow at
7:30 p.m. For more information, please visit the
Joyce web site.
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