Diavolo: Architecture in Motion has a talking problem. Let me be clear: Diavolo is an amazing dance company that presented three breathtaking, acrobatic programs Thursday night at the Kennedy Center. But the integrity of the dance was undermined by Artistic Director Jacques Heim, who gave multiple verbal director's notes from in front of the curtain. With dancers this good, doing anything less than letting them speak for themselves does the artists and the audience a disservice.

After a rambling introductory speech, in which Heim thanked sponsors, outlined the night's proceedings, and encouraged audience members to drink wine during the intermission, the dance finally began. "Passengers" was staged around several moving set pieces that came together to form a dystopic steam train, full of ladders, steps, and jungle-gym bars for the dancer to play on. Company members threw themselves down stairs, tossed suitcases and each other into the air, and leapt out of train windows. The piece pulsated with anxious energy and extreme athleticism. Unfortunately, my ability to develop my own interpretation of the piece was ruined with Heim appeared back onstage afterwards to inform us that the piece was "about the Holocaust" and that the train represented a trip to a concentration camp. While this interpretation certainly makes sense, it wasn't made clear during the dance itself, and the last minute explanation left me feeling mislead.

Next up was "The Veterans Project", a piece performed by veterans who participated in a Diavolo workshop. While none of the veterans were experienced dancers, the resulting piece was genuinely moving and impressive. The piece revolved around moveable metal bars, which served as ladders, prison bars, and guns in the hands of the dancers. The group exhibited wonderful teamwork and grace, and represented battle and the scars it creates well. Before the music kicked in, the piece was underscored by a recording of each veteran discussing his or hers biggest struggle. Once again, I found myself wishing that the company had allowed the powerful dance to speak for itself; the excessive narration was distracting.


The last piece, "Trajectoire", finally allowed the company to live up to its full potential largely because it was presented without extraneous comment. Based around a rocking, half moon set piece, "Trajectoire" was full of incredible feats of daring and acrobatics. This was the dance equivalent of going down a roller coaster; watching the dancers rock with the set as it reached an almost 90 degree angle to the stage was a pure shot of adrenaline. Beyond the remarkable leaps, jumps, and spins, the company remained graceful. Toes were pointed, landings were soft, and the partnering was exquisite. This was Diavolo at its best, and almost made me forget about the night's early wordiness.

Diavolo: Architecture in Motion ran on February 23rd and 24th, 2018 at the Kennedy Center. The performance lasted approximately two and a half hours.

Photo credit: George Simian

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From This Author Hannah Landsberger

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