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BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES

The online presentation, broadcast live from the Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, premiered July 31, 2020.

BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES DIAVOLO Architecture in Motion presents This Is Me: Letters From The Front Lines.

The online presentation, broadcast live from the Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, premiered July 31, 2020. The event began with a discussion between Thor Steingraber, Executive Director of the Soraya and the Founder and Artistic Director of Diavolo, Jacques Heim.

They discussed organizing via Zoom, planning how they would undertake the rehearsing and filming of this piece during the pandemic. When they brought in Aaron Mendez, their project began to formulate. He brought in a Cinematographer, Lighting designer, an Editor, etc., and the decision was made to quarantine every one of the dancers, as Jacques put it, for "weeks and weeks and weeks," and then shot for eight days with crew, taking all appropriate cautions seriously.

Jacques spoke of discovering a new way of "using" his art. His ongoing project, The Veteran's Project, has given him a new purpose and mission, and this: "This Is Me: Letters From The Front Lines," stems from his previous work up until now, with his creative mind dreaming up these images to accompany the exact written words.

Each of the spoken portraits that are imparted feature the writers of their own stories. BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES

The details are chiseled out by them speaking their words, in the middle of many ever-changing abstract and interesting moving sets while being enhanced by some incredibly athletic, proficient and daring dancers, physically interpreting those words.

Making Art that Makes a Difference, is first and foremost in the minds of most creative people at this time, and this is a wonderful example of humanizing our experiences for the benefit of others, in an artful, bold and seering way.

BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES This type of presentation is not easy to coordinate and succinctly put together. The whole technique is starting to emerge as another art form in and of its' self. Talk about commitment to the work: The entire Diavolo Dance Company quarantined all at the same time for all those weeks to be able to work on and film this labor of love, because of and in spite of the ongoing pandemic! Where there's a will, there's a way, and almost every dancer I know has proved they have the will to persevere.

The timing in the choreography, and the execution of it, is miraculously shot to get the maximum effect at all times. It's daring, exciting, expressive and spectacular, all rolled into one.

Each monologue begins with three words, "This is me"; then we learn about these front line workers and what it is like to have their job and responsibility trying to help people stay healthy and alive. BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES

The diversity of the testaments and how they were portrayed, were fluid and flowing in and through the dialogue, bold and expressively through their movements.

The dancers were actually the visual focus and added another dimension to relating the stories, making the words, the adjectives and verbs come alive more vividly.

Honoring the "front-liners" in our current global pandemic, the doctors, nurses, veterans, 1st responders, et al, we get a sense we've needed to hear of their experience, and they've needed to relay it. It's the pronouncement of genuine pain and sorrow, and the cry for healing and empathy and the need for strength and resilience.

BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES Diavolo is such an impressive company. The meaningful highlighting of the stories told through music and movement shows the struggles and victories of the human spirit. What's missing is depth. If the narratives were more personal, philosophical/insightful, it would give Diavolo a challenge to rise to, physically as well as to the storytellers, as they weave the drama of their experiences.

Jacques Heim has been collaborating with Diavolo for 27 years, which is certainly time enough to bond with the company, making the outcome even more tightly knit and perfectly timed. Everything's sharp and in unison when needed, or contrastingly fluid and limber.

The "WARRIORS" as they are called, were asked to write about their experiences and feelings, their difficulties and their revelations, during this stressful, uncertain time. With one camera, and eight dancers the project came alive. The camerawork alone is worth the watching, giving an all-over flow to the entire piece. BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES

Warrior France Nuyen Vincent starts us off on the journey of going from our norm to our "new norm" with everyone wearing masks and the abstract becoming the reality. We are laced from one saga to another by the constant movement by the dancers and sets, as they adjust to each other and carry the narrative forward with each transition. Sgt. Taylor Grayson, from the U. S. Army; Marietta Keating, an ICU Nurse, ironically positioned on a giant rolling wheel the dancers leap on and off of, as it moves, constantly, changing the perception of the total picture.

The very intense and split-second timing needed to perform Diavolo's work puts these dancers in their own category. The athleticism and gymnastic ability is amazing. The morphing sets are compelling. The lighting is so well thought out and enhancing. Lucas Haas, an EMT, La'Vel Stacy, US Navy, Shannon Corbeil, an Intelligence Officer/U S Air Force, Christopher Loverro, a US Army Veteran, who volunteered after 9-11 to fight in Afghanistan, enacting that experience through maneuvering gymnastically through entwined poles, backlit with the red tinge of war. BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES

Dr. Sasan Najibi, MD, a vascular surgeon at a Burbank hospital in a fascinating scene where he, little by little erects a structure of upright poles while explaining the beginning of his journey, bringing us up to where he is now. The symbolism of the placing of the poles, the changes that occur within this section, and the expressiveness of the movements are very mind-capturing. During this section there are many back handsprings, front and back walkovers and other gymnastic feats that serve to boost the effects of the intent. A hard-working and talented humanitarian, Dr. Najibi recently worked with his hospital to design and build a separate building designated to the care of Covid patients, complete with over 100 ICU beds and ventilators.

BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES The interpretation of this part is shared between him and the symbolic poles and a female dancer who helps build the momentum by dancing more deliberately, stronger and with more conviction, in and out of the poles. She climbs the upright poles to their tops, balancing precariously but determined to lay atop, stretched out fully, facing the ceiling. As the overhead camera pans over her, smoke fills up the stage, she takes off the mask and begins to breathe in, deeply, becoming calmer with each intake.

BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES Again the apparatuses change to all different types of platforms that the dancers dance through, around and in. The gymnastic prowess and originality is unparalleled.

As the piece ends, music swelling, growing louder, we are back where we started, musing, "I wonder what gives them the strength to rise every morning, lately..."

A quote by Maya Angelou fills the screen: We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated."

There are short bios afterwards of each performer explaining their diversified backgrounds and current goals.

Personnel for This is Me: Letters from the Front Lines

Jacques Heim Director/Choreographer; Jim Vincent Artistic Consultant, Dramaturg; Aaron Mendez Cinematographer, Editor; France Nguyen-Vincent Performer/Writer.

Warriors: Susan Najibi, Doctor; Mariella Keating, Nurse; Anthony Keating, EMT; Tyler Grayson, Army; La'Vel Stacy, Navy; Shannon Corbeil, Air Force; Chris Loverro, Army.

Jean-Yves Tessier Lighting Designer; Chris Mendez Assistant to Aaron Mendez; Noah Alexander Sound Operator; Simon Greenberg Sound Engineer; George Simian Photographer; Dusty Alvarado Producer; Amy Tuley Project Manager; Jose Hernandez General Manager. BWW Review: DIAVOLO Architechture in Motion Presents THIS IS ME: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT LINES

Diavolo performer: Majella Loughran; Rehearsal Director/Performer: Kate Dougherty: Assistant Rehearsal Director/Performer: Steven Jasso Technical Director/Performer; Matt Wagner: Safety Coordinator/Performer; Abraham Meisel Archivist/Performer; Derion Loman: Performer; Daniel Jacob Glenn: Performer; Evan Turner: Performer; Kelsey Long: Performer; Lex Shimko: Performer; BethanyRose Boutwel: Performer.

You can view at any time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bn10eZLXOec

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For more information please visit www.thesoraya.org

Photos Courtesy of Diavolo Architecture in Motion (DIAVOLO Dance) George Simian


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From This Author Valerie-Jean Miller