Diavolo dance troupe flying high

Feb. 07, 2013 @ 03:25 PM

Look! Up in the air … It’s performers from Diavolo Dance Theater. This LA-based troupe flies without wires and harnesses. Instead, they summon grit and trained muscles to hurl themselves though the air above the stage. “We’re superheroes!,” company member Chisa Yamaguchi said in a recent telephone interview.
Unlike Superman, however, these performers have to learn to do amazing feats. “Before we learn to fly, we learn to fall,” Yamaguchi said. They also learn to catch fellow fliers. “We treat them like a football and reach out to them.”
Audiences here will see these performers fly, dive, tumble, scramble and swarm when they make their Duke University debut this weekend.  Performances take place Feb. 8 and 9 at Reynolds Industries Theater.
Given what they do, it’s no wonder they’re described, on the company’s website, as a “modern acrobatic dance company.” Members include not only dancers but also gymnasts, actors and athletes. Even rock-climbers have been members of this troupe.
French-born artistic director Jacque Heim, who started out as a street performer in Paris, founded the company in 1992. Since then, the company has become known for their athletic, gravity-defying feats on enormous, moving sets. As the LA Times put it, “To say Diavolo is exciting is redundant.”
Even Diavolo’s auditons take strength and endurance as Yamaguchi, 28, recalled.  In the nine-hour audition she survived, company hopefuls had to demonstrate athletic ability, dance technique, improvise movements on a structure, fly and catch each other, exhibit strength by doing push-ups, pull-ups and leg lifts. Those who made it to the end then sat down for an interview, she said.
Yamaguchi joined Diavolo II five years ago – she now directs that company – and became a member of the main, touring company four years ago.  She also served as yoga instructor for Cirque de Soleil’s latest show, “IRIS,” and sees similarities and differences between these companies. Performers in both must be strong, flexible and acrobatic. Cirque de Soleil has, by far, the biggest budget and largest cast. But Diavolo performers must have more endurance because they never leave the stage, Yamaguchi said. The longest she’s seen a Cirque de Soleil performer onstage is nine minutes, she added.
In the program Diavolo performs here, each work runs about 30 minutes. They will perform “Fearful Symmetries” and “Trajectoire” both nights. In “Fearful Symmetries,” dancers perform on a giant modular cube and manipulate it into new shapes. This takes place on a moving, motorized stage.
In “Trajectoire,” a rocking, 6-foot-high galleon becomes their vehicle for a ride on “storm-tossed seas.” Getting their sea legs takes practice and new dancers can experience some sea-sickness but knowing they’re in control of the action helps, Yamaguchi said. Performers can control the motion through use of sand bags and their actions. “If someone says ‘kill it’ we can make it stop,” she added.
“We’re superheroes. We do something most people can’t do. You feel like a rock star,” the dancer said.
But performers do sometimes sustain injuries. “The work is demanding. I’ve had a few injuries that have taken me out for a month or two,” Yamaguchi said.
“Physical injuries are never as severe as psychological injuries,” she added.
Rather than staying in their minds and becoming fearful and unsure, performers must tap into their animal instinct – the intelligence of the body, the dancer added. “That way, we can restructure what can be possible. We are stronger than we think we are,” Yamaguchi said.
As senior member of the troupe, she also encourages others to do something restorative in their free time such as yoga, meditation, walking. “There is so much value to slowing down,” she said.  For herself, Yamaguchi adds writing and has a blog. In her entry, “Taking time to digest,” written in Gwangyang, China, after two shows that day, she describes the benefits of down time.
“Simply put, we must create the space to physically, emotionally and spiritually digest this world around us, without it dampening our fire as well as not allowing it to rage out of control, which can be difficult in the ever-changing climates of our external and internal environments,” she writes.


WHAT: Diavolo Dance Theater performs.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Feb. 8 and 9
WHERE: Reynolds Industries Theater, Duke University.
TICKETS: 919-684-4444 or www.tickets.duke.edu