If you were to assume that Jacques Heim, the bold and much-praised founder of the Diavolo Dance Theater was a choreographer, no one would blame you. Diavolo is, after all, a dance company, and Heim, a roguish Frenchman who talks quickly and passionately about his art, seems to fulfill all the prerequisites of the profession. But you would be wrong, at least according to him.
“I describe what we do as architecture in motion,” Heim said during a recent phone call. “And I don’t describe myself as a choreographer as much as an architect of motion.” It’s a fitting title for the man whose company is now bringing the third piece of its trilogy with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the Hollywood Bowl stage on Sept. 5. Like its predecessors, “Foreign Bodies” and “Fearful Symmetry,” the latest work, “Fluid Infinities,” revolves around an architectural centerpiece, this time a moving, glowing crescent “moon” (as some described it at a recent preview of the piece), a wondrous and beautiful contraption that puts a fitting cap on Diavolo’s “Espace du Temps” trilogy.
For those unfamiliar with Diavolo’s work, fear not, for even Heim has trouble defining exactly what the company does, admitting that even after 14 years of touring nationally and internationally, Diavolo defies convention. “Imagine I was a French chef and mixing a salad,” Heim offered. “Here’s the recipe: I would put in the salad a little bit of everyday movement, a little bit of ballet, a little bit of modern dance, a little bit of gymnastics, a little bit of acrobatics, a little bit of martial arts, a little bit of hip hop, and then add abstract structures ... and there you have it, that’s the salad.”
And what a filling meal it will be, if the early preview of the piece shown to the press and some Diavolo backers last month is any indication. “Fluid Infinities” uses Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3 to startling effect. The strings-only piece oozes with menace as Diavolo’s dancers jump through, walk over, hang off of and twirl about the fiberglass quarter-sphere “moon,” which is pockmarked by circular openings recalling both the portholes of ships and the dark craters of the celestial body.
To those who’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” there may be noticeable echoes of the film in Diavolo’s latest work, and according to Heim, this is not accidental. “The trilogy is called an ‘Espace du Temps’ — Space of Time — which is also sort of a theme of ‘2001,’ ” said Heim, who cited the film’s famous “monolith” as a big influence on his latest work. And it is easily seen in the piece’s first movement, where the dancers in the company first encounter the architectural centerpiece with a mix of wonder, fear and attraction.
“The five women and the five men in the company completely create the movements for the piece,” Heim said. “I more direct them, and look at what they’re doing, purely from an architectural point of view.”
Heim has found working on the trilogy to be an invigorating experience. “It’s actually surpassed what I expected,” he admitted. “I had really no idea what I was entering into.”
“It really also changed the way that Diavolo was working ... in the past we never had the music first,” Heim said. But as the trilogy necessitated a close partnership with the L.A. Philharmonic, Heim no longer had the luxury of waiting to choose his musical accompaniment later in the process. And, as Heim soon found, “With great restriction comes great freedom.”
The entire effort requires collaboration on a grand scale. Beyond Heim’s dancers and the orchestra, there’s designer Mike McCluskey, with whom Heim worked closely on the development of the architectural centerpiece. “I bring them drawing ideas and concepts,” Heim said. The job of the designers is to make Heim’s vision practical, not an easy job, especially when the challenges of working at the Hollywood Bowl are involved.
“The main challenge is that we rehearse during the day,” Heim said. “The temperature is crazy.” Indeed, in the past, the company has actually experienced problems with shoes melting on stage at the Bowl, and they had to bring in mini air conditioners so they could work safely. And as for the moon, according to Heim, “You can cook your own eggs on it,” during the heat of the day.
Beyond the heat though, there are other unique challenges. “In terms of the lighting, we have to be careful so that we don’t blind any of the musicians,” Heim said. “We have to adjust to the condition of the environment.”
Heim is very excited about premiering the piece at the bowl, though, and is also looking forward to the indoor premiere of the full trilogy next May in Germany. “I want to do something where I’m ready to fail,” he said. “I want to feel like I remember feeling when I was at the Grand Canyon, standing on the edge, ready to fly or ready to fall.”
“That’s when you’re really rediscovering yourself,” he said, “and you grow.”
“Fluid Infinities” premieres Sept. 5 at the Hollywood Bowl. The L.A. Philharmonic, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, will also perform pieces by Adams and Prokofiev as part of the evening’s program. Tickets can be purchased on the Hollywood Bowl’s Web site.