Born in Paris, France, Jacques Heim founded the Los Angeles based Diavolo - Architecture in Motion, in 1992. His choreography makes use of several styles of dance and it is world famous for the use of props and sets. Heim has choreographed for Cirque du Soleil and was a creative director for the Opening Ceremony at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, among other award winning achievements. In DIAVOLO’s program at the University of California, Irvine’s Barclay Theatre Heim made use of a giant wheel, a large metal train (equipped with external and internal lights) that could be assembled and disassembled, and 32 boxes that were shaped into office cubicles, drums, platforms and more.

Cubicle by Diabolo : Architecture in Motion © Luke Behaunek
Cubicle by Diabolo : Architecture in Motion
© Luke Behaunek

The west coast première of Humachina II opened with a smoke filled stage. A man leaped into view and at the end of a brief solo he encountered a large rust colored wheel seemingly moving under its own power. As the smoke dispersed and other dancers began moving around this imposing structure, I was reminded of the opening segment of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey where enlightened apes suddenly gain knowledge after the appearance of a mysterious black monolith. Like the monolith, the wheel seemed to inspire or motivate these humans into action. As they danced, they entered, rode and exited every part of the wheel, from center to edge, with every surface of the wheel's form providing a unique performance structure. The piece ended just as eerily as it began with the wheel moving alone through the darkening hazy space.

As the house lights were brought up, Jacques Heim and his Marketing Director Chisa Yamaguchi talked about the making of Heim’s work-in-progress L.O.S.T. [Losing One’s Self Temporarily] of which Part 1: Passengers and 2: Cubicle were appearing next on the program. A four minute promo video was shown highlighting the making of the set for Passengers, and the talented designers and artists involved. 

After viewing Part 1: Passengers (2016) I thought that it would make a wonderful dance film. We watched as passengers moved through a station looking for the track number and departure time for their train. They carried luggage and with the use of Heim’s amazing set, we saw them walk up and down stairs, put their luggage on a conveyor belt and, as the set is assembled, board the train. Anyone who has travelled by train can relate to this work. There’s a woman with an over-sized duffle bag, one who falls asleep, and a few brief flirting relationships that occur. The train moved around the stage. It turned into stairs that represented the seats inside the train. The seats open and the passengers are consumed and ejected through them. Passengers is a visual treat and the very technically and physically strong dancers, who manipulated the large sections of the train, appeared fearless.

Part 2: Cubicle (2015) opened with a woman sitting in a very small, cramped cubicle that was part of a large grey wall. Sections of the wall began to disappear backwards as we were transported into an office workplace filled with individual work stations, employees dressed in grey and white work clothes and a sculpture representing fluorescent lights overhead. Through his choreography, Heim gave us a look into the world of repetitive work habits and clone-like humans. Inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984, Cubicle is a look into a world where everyone has been absorbed into the status quo. The cubicles were lifted and moved about. The dancers built walls, stairs and yes, another train. As in Orwell’s novel, Heim used cigarettes to represent the workers having at least one personal vice. Workers revolted by breaking out of their routine and removing their grey work clothes. Their bright colored underwear helped demonstrate their inner uniqueness. We watched as these individuals enjoyed a brief freedom only to have their world return to greyness.

Jacques Heim publicly admits that he does not choreograph his work alone. His dancers are also actively involved in realizing Heim’s visions. And, they are not the stereotypical dancers. These artists perform different dance styles as well as difficult acrobatic feats. They tumble over giant wheels, down metal stairs and move like liquid in and out of different set openings. The women are as strong as the men and in Cubicle they not only do all the gymnastic movements that the men do, but they do so while wearing heels. Those amazing performers are Ana Carolina Brotons, Christopher Carvalho, Leandro Glory Damasco Jr., Weylin Gomez, Majella Loughran, Ezra Masse-Mahar, Chelsea Pierce, Jessie Ryan, Connor Senning, Kellie St. Pierre, Amy Tuley and Rico Velazquez. Heim’s extremely talented production staff includes Lighting Designers Evan Merryman Ritter and John E.D. Bass; Musical Director Bruno Louchouarn and set designers Lilienthal/Zamora, McCluskey Ltd. and Tina Trefethen.