Diavolo Review: Beyond Language

Last weekend, LA-based Diavolo visited St. Louis bringing their distinct style of Architecture in Motion. With movement that covered the spectrum of dance genre from break dancing to modern, the additional design of mobile set pieces, and all sorts of terrifying tumbling done over, under, and up the sides of such pieces, Diavolo was a balancing act of art and entertainment.

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After seeing Saturday evening’s performance, I have hardly anything to question. I would like to know what kind of shoes they wore. I didn’t notice them in the first piece, and then in the second, I thought at first the dancers were wearing socks. I wish they had been dyed skin color because the white appearance made them at first seem like they were moving in slippers and drew attention to the few moments when a foot wasn’t stretched –probably only noticeable and bothersome to a trained dancer. The only problem with this performance was the program.

My guess is that only those listed with bios performed and those listed as ‘original collaborators’ were not necessarily onstage. There was also a performer named, ‘Zoltan’ (no last name) cited in ‘Trajectoire’ with no bio provided. I really wanted to know more about this Zoltan.

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I was very curious to read Chisa Yamaguchi’s bio after having the pleasure of interviewing her. It was nowhere to be found, along with several other performers. An entirely different cast was listed between act 1 and 2. As the curtain fell on the surely exhausted dancers after the first piece, it seemed to make sense that new dancers would perform the second selection as it seemed impossible those in the opening, ‘Transit Space’ would have the stamina to do anything but lay down in a ball under a bag of ice on one leg, a heating pad on the other. I have pretty terrible eyesight but the dancers of the second ‘Trajectoire’ looked like the same cast to me. The performer with the short blonde hair really stood out to me in the first act, and there she was again but not properly cited on the page. Program conundrums’ aside, the real question is how it is physically possible for the human body to endure two such rigorous pieces and to be so very different in each.

The opening ‘Treansit Space’ felt like a peek through a telescope into an average day in urban life. The piece covered a range of tones and themes, from the opening where all the performers seemed to be onstage, simply walking, none noticing the others, to battles, flirtations, and explosions of adrenaline and play. The manipulation of the folding and unfolding bridges was the added performer amidst beautifully constructed duets, groupings, and patterns around the stage. The structure of the choreography was evident throughout, particularly powerful and fun when the slides were facing downstage and dancers ran up and down, synchronized, then taking their turn to disappear between each set piece. I felt pretty bad for the guy in the red plaid that seemed like he did the most running. The movement itself was impressive and entertaining, particularly the jumping off one set piece to fall softly on the opposite side of another with no hands, to slide swiftly back to the stage. Powerful narrations burst out like the inner thoughts of each person; ‘happy birthday from 1500 friends on facebook and not a single phone call’ ‘fingers texting..’ all modern notions of the lack of real human intimacy, the desires for rawness, realness, and finding oneself. My favorite line was, ‘I have to stop looking where the light is good’. These spoken moments told the audience what was going on but it was easy to feel the intent from the movement alone, as the inexpressible residue of emotion that can only be articulated physically.

Unlike Transit Space with it’s multiple pieces all moving around one another, the second selection ‘Trajectoire’ used one single set, a giant rocking platform similar to the body of a ship. The white t-shirt and pants for costumes admittedly made my think of sailors, which is a bad but possible reason for this image.

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If the first piece touched the idea of humans as individuals connecting and disconnecting with each other and navigating through life, Trajectoire with its single large scale piece lent to the united feel of human life on earth. Perhaps I’m reading too deeply into this piece, but it suggested to me, the ride that life can be; it can make you soar, can crush you, pulls you in different directions, the difficulty in staying on your feet and balanced, the reliance of friends to catch you. And amidst all of this turmoil there was stunning dancing, partnering and lifts on top of a rocking platform. I can’t imagine how terrifying and electrifying it is to be one of these dancers. This piece took motion to the furthest edge of possibility.

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While the first piece felt easily relatable with the narration and street clothes, the more abstract Trajectoire was human experience in its fullest exaggeration. Transit space reminded me of the subway platforms in New York City, while Trajectoire stirred up specified emotions from experiences without picturing any experience in itself. In both, Diavolo pushes the use of design. Communication without language often relies on stereotyped expression through movement, its end result more akin to decoration. In both pieces, the design of the sets and of the movement demanded a stirring of emotion, delight, or downright fear. The consciousness of our own gravity takes Diavolo’s act of defying it in to an artful expression of relatable experience.

I sometimes think you need to undergo some dance training to fully appreciate a performance, to understand the nuance and hardship of each step. This is a show that anyone can fully appreciate for its overwhelming, thrilling effect that transcends beyond an appreciation for technical dance vocabulary. The hypothesis of linguistic relativity states that the only way to see the world is through the lens of language. Without language or codified symbols, we are left with the undeniable fact that all movement is affected or driven by emotion and experience. Diavolo proves it possible to put everything, not just the residual that language leaves behind, into something seemingly physical and deliver an overwhelming emotional effect

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One thought on “Diavolo Review: Beyond Language

  1. Pingback: RFbtT ‘Best of St. Louis’ Audience Choice Awards | BODIES NEVER LIE

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