For the past 28 years Jacques Heim has been creating works that make audiences gasp as his performers dance, flip, tumble on, in and under moving sets and sculptures or swan dive off of one into the arms of colleagues as it moves across the stage. Born in France, Heim is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Los Angeles based DIAVOLO/Architecture In Motion that seamlessly fuses together dance, martial arts, acrobatics, and hip hop. Over the years, he has collaborated with set, lighting, and costume designers as well as composers and writers; all this brought together to create thought provoking, high-energy and breathtaking art. Yes, there is a touch of circus in Heim’s work, but it is definitely art.
On Friday, March 18, 2022, DIAVOLO received a standing ovation by an almost sold out house at the end of each of Heim’s two works, TRAJECTOIRE (1999) and S.O.S. SIGNS OF STRENGTH (2022) presented at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts under the title of THE VETERANS PROJECT. While each incorporates Heim’s trademark movement, the two works are at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.
TRAJECTOIRE (Path) features 15 dancers/performers, including Ukrainian born Andrii Strelkivskyi whose mother has left the country but his father stayed behind to fight for his country’s freedom. The emotional pressure that is on Strelkivskyi must be enormous, but his performance showed no signs of it. The entire cast appeared united and focused on delivering a near perfect performance.
At the opening of Trajectoire the set by Daniel Wheeler resembles the lower half of a very large, spoked wheel. A silhouetted woman moves along the center axle before revealing that it is actually not one figure but two women when they separate into a beautiful, mirrored duet. When the stage lights expand to open up the space, the half wheel is shown to be a large wooden and metal platform with a curved bottom that allows it to rock from side to side. On each end are railings and as the platform rocks at various speeds, the performers use them to stand against, slide through onto the stage, perform acrobatic feats that would be considered difficult on a non-moving surface, and yes, swan dive into the arms of waiting catchers as the audience gasps and cheers.
Heim’s choreography for Trajectoire begins with some of his more contemporary dance movements and, along with the beautiful music by composer Nathan Wang, the quality is lyrical and romantic. As the work continues, the movement enters into more of the acrobatic realm with various members of the cast taking turns performing on the moving set. The action is difficult to describe as it is not only fast but complex, multifaceted and features amazing athletic movement phrases that utilizes every inch of the set that one’s mind might conjure up.
Trajectoire ends with a dramatic solo performed with artistry and abandon by Ana Brotons that brought forth emotions of internal struggles that are shared by all, exhausted and seemingly near defeat, Brotons’ character triumphs giving the rest of us hope.
The full cast of amazing performers included Ana Brotons, Rebekah Bubnar, Kate Dougherty, Aaron Franco, Emily Grable, Simon Greenberg, Brandon Grimm, Steven Jasso, Liana Kulchin, Alexandra Lockhart, Derion Loman, Abe Meisel, Juan “Co-eL” Rodriguez, Andrii Strelkivskyi, and Matt Wagner.
Other credits for Trajectoire include: Jacques Heim (Director & Choreographer), Majella Loughran (Associate Choreographer & Rehearsal Director), Nathan Wang (Music Composer), Jean-Yves Tessier (Lighting Designer), Meegan Godfrey (Costume Designer), Matt Wagner (Associate Rehearsal Director), Jim Vincent (Creative Associate & Movement Coach), Daniel Wheeler (Structure Designer), Mike McCluskey LTD., Tina Trefethen & Daniel Wheeler (Structure Construction & Engineering), Arianne Villareal (Project Coordinator & Stage Manager), and Steven Jasso (Technical Director).
For the past several years Heim and members of the DIAVOLO team have been working with veterans from all four branches of the United State Military to “utilize DIAVOLO’s unique style of movement as a tool to help restore veterans’ physical, mental, and emotional strengths through workshops and public performances in communities all around the country.” This was the world premiere of S.O.S. SIGNS OF STRENGTH included 8 veteran performers and 10 civilian performers to demonstrate the physical and emotional tolls that war causes on those who serve our country.
The work opens with a young boy (Micah Lagunas) standing centerstage holding a boutique of roses. He is a symbol of innocence and peace, and as the piece progresses he begins to represent each and every child that is affected, displaced and yes, killed during wartime. Watching Lagunas, I could not help but think of the millions of children experiencing war in Ukraine at this very moment.
It was incredible to watch as the veterans used their military training to climb up and over the large portable Plinko game-like set by Daniel Wheeler, maneuver the metal poles which took on symbols of military artillery, or when inserted into holes in a smaller portable platform, became a multipurpose environment for Heim’s movement imagination.
S.O.S. Signs of Strength shared similar movement themes with Heim’s other work, but pieced together in a way that evoked scenes of war that we all have witnessed in film and on T.V., that only a small percentage of us have experienced. These veterans experienced the horrors of war and through movement shared a few of those moments with their civilian colleagues onstage and with the audience.
One of the strengths that helps to visualize this work are the personal stories written and vocalized by the veterans, as well as excerpts from original WWI military reports and poems authored by WWI veteran Siegfried Sassoon. These stories speak of painful war experiences, the loneliness, the struggle to remain sane, and the lack of comradery that they faced upon leaving the military. During the Q&A that followed the performance the veterans related how working with DIAVOLO helped heal some of those emotional wounds. One said that she had never spoken of personal story that she vocalized in the show to anyone, including her therapist, until after she had joined The Veterans Project.
During the introduction of S.O.S. Signs of Strength Heim said that the objective was not to make art with this piece but to help heal and support the men and women veterans and to bring them together with civilians in order to help each group understand each other. While Heim’s objectives seem to be met very well, if S.O.S. Signs of Strength is not art than I do not know what is. It has been said that art reflects life and this work does that in spades.
The truly inspiring veterans performers were: Freddie Basnight (US Army, Iraq War Veteran), Veronica Burgess (US Navy, Iraq War Veteran), Valentina Cahill (US Army, Iraq War Veteran), Chris Loverro (US Army, Iraq War Veteran), Daemion Marcuz (US Marines Corps, Afghanistan War Veteran), Ejay Menchavez (US Army, Afghanistan War Veteran), Tess Rutherford (US Marine Corps Veteran), and Anthony Simpson (US Marine Corps, Iraq War Veteran).
The astonishing civilian performers included: Kate Dougherty, Caribay Franke, Emily Grable, Simon Greenberg, Steven Jasso, Micah Lagunas, Derion Loman, Abe Meisel, Gabby Pariseau, and Juan “Co-eL” Rodriguez.
Kudos to Lighting Designer Jean-Yves Tessier whose lighting equaled the energy and excitement of Heim’s work without getting in its way and to Nathan Wang for his amazing music for Trajectoire.
Other credits include: Jacques Heim (Director and Choreographer), Majella Loughran (Associate Choreographer & Rehearsal Director), France Nguyen Vincent (Writer & Dramaturg), Jennifer Cheng (S.O.S. Veterans Program Founder), Lieutenant Colonel Art DeGroat (Veterans Program Executive Producer), Chris Loverro (Veterans Coordinator & Recruitment), Kate Dougherty (Project Director), Music: Max Richter, Jed Kurzel, Steve Jablonsky, and Poems by WWI Veteran Siegfried Sassoon.
To learn more about Jacques Heim, his work and The Veterans Project, please visit the DIAVOLO/Architecture In Motion website.
To see all that is going on at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, please visit the website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle
Featured image: DIAVOLO/Architecture In Motion – S.O.S. Signs of Strength by Jacques Heim – Photo by Lawrence K. Ho