Diavalo Dance Brings Skateboards and Rock and Roll to 'Transit Space'

Julie Shelton

'Architecture in Motion' takes on modern-day anxiety

There’s an old saying that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Though it’s meant to illustrate the inadequacy of words to capture something as ethereal as music, that hasn’t stopped Diavolo artistic director Jacques Heim from combining words and music to, well, dance about architecture.

Diavalo/Architecture in Motion hits Hollywood’s Greek Theatre on Sept. 12 presenting its latest work, Transit Space, featuring spoken word artist Steve Connell and a score by theater composer Paul James Prendergast. Film composer Nathan Wang (Rumble in the Bronx) will also present his piece, Trajectoire.

For Heim, every Diavalo production begins with a shape or form sketched on a pad then given to a designer to realize for the stage. Once in place, company dancers (in the case of Transit Space, five men and five women), interact with what looks like a vert ramp from a skateboard competition as Heim watches, working out the choreography.

“That’s why it’s architecture in motion, cause it’s about this really intense relation and direction between the human body and the architectural environment, how it is effecting us not only socially but physically and emotionally,” Heim, founder of the 20-year-old company, explains to The Hollywood Reporter.  

Set to a rock and roll score by Prendergast, Transit Space will be the first time Diavalo works with text, in this case written by Heim’s former student, Connell, captain of the 2003 National Poetry Championship-winning team.

“At its heart it’s about the demands, the pressures that are working upon us in big cities like L.A. where there’s this feeling that there’s so much that separates us and at the same time is this strong desire to be connected and this longing for community and family and friendship,” says Connell about the show’s theme.

Consulting with Dogtown and Z Boy filmmakers, Heim and Connell found a counter-cultural refuge that serves as metaphor in our current goal-oriented era. “This group feels a little beaten down, a few people that are lost and trying to find something great within themselves, some greater purpose,” Connell says about the skate community that convenes on stage. “They eventually sort of come apart and come back together and lift each other up. That’s a big part of what the piece is about and speaks to the greater world.”

Anyway, that’s their aim. Like New York’s Push Theatre and Not Man Apart in Santa Monica, Diavalo is among a growing trend in physical theater, companies that integrate dance, gymnastics, acrobatics and martial arts to form a new kind of expression.

“You’re going to have people who say this is not dance, this is some cheesy little acrobatics, this is some circus act,” Heim concedes. “Then you have a whole other kind of people who say this is taking dance, taking another language and another medium, architecture, movement and creating a beautiful fusion.”

In fact, he doesn’t worry about the haters, reflecting back on his grandfather, couturier Jacques Heim, who gave the world pret-a-porter and what would eventually become known as the bikini.

“He was criticized, it’s exactly as if right now I designed a bathing suit showing the nipples of a woman. It would be scandalous. It would be on CNN, but eventually 30 or 50 years from now they’ll think it’s okay to do it,” Heim speculates. “At the end of the day, it’s great that we push the envelope.”