Diavolo's artistic director, Jacques Heim, has what most choreographers dream of: strong, versatile, gorgeous dancers, a collaborative team of designers, and funding. With these tools, he creates simply conceived, tightly rehearsed dances with a spellbinding catch -- they usually revolve around the dancers' interaction with and manipulation of large, cleverly constructed set pieces, such as a massive cube that can be climbed, broken apart, transformed into pillars, windows, a bar.
Diavolo's performers haven't just studied dance, but gymnastics, capoeira (a Brazilian martial art), and other arts and sports, and it shows in their strength and diversity of movement. They shift seamlessly from the classical lines of ballet to the powerful, rocking crouch of capoeira.
"Fearful Symmetries" opened Diavolo's Modlin Center program, with the cube standing in monolithic splendor as dancers dressed as factory workers cautiously approached it. If only all deconstructive exercises could be this entertaining -- the dancers began hesitantly and with gradually increasing bravado manipulate the cube's segments, using them as ladders, partners, obstacles and platforms. Amidst this shifting geometric landscape, the human movement flowed like a river, with effortless acrobatics, deft partnering, and wildly accurate timing, all to a driving, mechanistic score by John Adams.
In "TA¦te en l'air," a businessman in a bowler hat dragged a suitcase onto a huge set of steps. The audience giggled as a woman bearing a single red rose climbed out of the suitcase, and suddenly the stage filled with dancers in vests and slacks, carrying red roses. The piece riffed on rush hour, and the ceaseless hurrying that humans use to fill their days. A memorable image involved men reading newspapers while slithering down the steps on their backs, head first.
Two other works made up the program: "Knockturne," a love duet in which a man and woman swung in and out, over and through a doorway; and "Humachina," focused on a huge metal wheel on, in, over and around which the dancers cavorted and interacted as it rocked back and forth along the stage.
Heim's works serve as danced meditations on the human condition. Technology enables us to fly, yet we are its prisoners, he seems to say. Not a new theme, but always a relevant one.