Listening to Jacques Heim talk about hefty structures used in his choreography is fascinating, not because he’s also driving through the concrete jungles of Los Angeles, or that he’s the artistic director of the leaping and flying Diavolo Dance Theater based there. It’s his vibrant accent and his obsession with architecture.
“I’m French,” he said, “and I had to come to the United States to do theater, but back in 1983, my English was terrible. So I took dance and discovered beautiful movement, and I didn’t have to speak.”
Heim insists he never had the best talent or the body of a dancer, but he was hooked.
“Dance is so powerful, and organic, and never lies,” he shouted, over the traffic sounds. “But I am not a dancer or acrobat. I’m a flexible artistic director. I wish I could be an architect.”
Founded in 1992 by Heim, the troupe has history in L.A. and the globe. After 14 years of international touring, Diavolo is one of L.A.’s most successful dance troupes.
“Diavolo means ‘little devil’ in Italian,” Heim is quick to point out. “But more like a ‘little rascal,’ so it’s an endearing expression.”
He credits his family for much of his success, such as his famous grandfather, Jacques Heim from Cannes, who designed couture –and a revealing two-piece swimsuit dubbed the atome. In 1946, he hired a skywriter to advertise the atome, French for atom, “the world’s smallest bathing suit. A few weeks later, his rival, Louis Réard, put out a smaller suit called the “bikini.”
“Grandfather Jacques was a fashion designer – Google that – who created the first two-piece swimsuit,” he said. “His logo was a fox, so I use that too. I’m inspired by him, and architecture, and I look at forms and movement together, patterns, texture and color. So that’s how I direct. I consider myself an architect of motion.”
His dancers are ultra-athletes, props are high tech springboards, and his works send fearless performers flying. He’s choreographed for TV (Dancing with the Stars), movies, and special events.
“In 2002, Cirque de Soleil hired me to work with them,” Heim said. “I did the show Kà, at the MGM Grand. But Diavolo is not a circus. We have acrobats and martial arts, and structures, architectural environments.”
Heim and his Diavolo troupe also collaborate with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create dance works at the Hollywood Bowl. “Foreign Bodies” premiered in 2007. “Fearful Symmetries,” set to the music of John Adams, followed in 2010. “Fluid Infinities,” set to the music of Philip Glass, will complete the trilogy at the Hollywood Bowl this year.
Heim and his cast bring their playful physicality and taste for danger to the Garfield Theatre in La Jolla on Saturday, May 18th at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 19 at 2 p.m. The program will include “Fearful Symmetries.”
“The big cube splits apart in ‘Symmetries,’ and there’s big music by John Adams,” Heims said. “Most important, bodies have to be on time, the dancers have to manipulate the cube. I have them dress as factory workers, and it’s very abstract. The cube refers to Descartes’ belief that the universe came from a cube.”
The Paris–born Heim says he is always inspired by architecture and sees patterns for dances everywhere.
“I travel all over the world,” he said. “In the train station, subway, and airport, I always wonder, ‘Where do they go? Is that their luggage? Do they know where they are going? Do we want to follow them? Is that person’s life better than mine?’ That’s the theme of ‘Tete en L’Air,’ and it is very surreal. One time I saw a woman dressed in a wedding gown running through an airport. The work is a collage of images, just glimpses.”
While Heim’s creations are known for mysterious structures with trap doors and performers plunging into swan dives, he likes to throw in short, quirky works.
“After the intermission, the audience will return for something completely whacko!” he chuckled. “‘Knockturne’ is for a couple, and in a doorway we see the entire relationship in only six minutes. We see the attraction and infatuation – it is dramatic theater.”