Los Angeles Dance Interview: JACQUES HEIM (Artistic Director of Diavolo Dance Theater)

by Myra Joy Veluz on August 30, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

Myra Joy Veluz' Stage and Cinema interview with Jacques Heim of Diavolo Dance Theatre.


Born and raised in Paris, France, Jacques Heim received his MFA in Choreography from the California Institute for the Arts and founded Diavolo Dance Theater in 1992. For the past twenty years Heim has choreographed for Diavolo, Cirque de Soleil, theater, and television. He has also gained international recognition in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. His latest work, Fluid Infinites, is the last Myra Joy Veluz' Stage and Cinema interview with Jacques Heim of Diavolo Dance Theatre.installment in the trilogy, L’Espace du Temps, which was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The first two installments – now in Diavolo’s repertory – are Foreign Bodies (2007), set to the music of Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Fearful Symmetries (2010), set to the music of John Adams. Fluid Infinities, which premieres Thursday, September 5, 2013 at the Hollywood Bowl, will be set to Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 3.

During my interview with Mr. Heim for Stage and Cinema, he spoke with such clarity about the significance of his creative process, what he looks for in his dancers, and his future plans for the trilogy, that it felt appropriate to publish this piece as a first-person narrative. Even before witnessing a preview of Diavolo Dance Theater’s latest work, I always found their creations startling, profoundly moving, and internally pure. With the premiere of Fluid Infinities less than a week away, it is assured that both dance novices and enthusiasts alike will experience a performance unlike any other. – Myra Joy Veluz

JACQUES HEIM: I grew up in Paris and got kicked out of six different schools. In 1983 I was a student in an MFA program for Theater and my English was so bad that I shifted my focus from theater to dance. Actually, my friend often joked that I was not required to speak while dancing since my accent is so thick. Diavolo began as a default because of me not speaking English well. While in my MFA program for dance I fell in love with movement. In another life, however, I wish I could be an architect. Diavolo really is the combination of my two loves, movement and architecture.

Myra Joy Veluz' Stage and Cinema interview with Jacques Heim of Diavolo Dance Theatre.

When looking at potential dancers for Diavolo, I look at their technique and their presence. There is also a Rehearsal Director and two to three company members present during the audition process. We do a lot of improvisation; I look at the quality and, more importantly, the creation of movement amongst the dancers. So in essence, we kind of have a panel at the audition. The Diavolo dancers to me are like construction workers, and I am the architect, and together we form a true collaborative group that explores with the structure.

Myra Joy Veluz' Stage and Cinema interview with Jacques Heim of Diavolo Dance Theatre.

But not many people really understand what collaboration entails or even what it means. Diavolo is the purest form of collaboration because everybody works together through the positive and the negative experiences. Because we use this process, we believe first and foremost that you have to let go of the ego. You cannot be selfish and you cannot take things personally.

Myra Joy Veluz' Stage and Cinema interview with Jacques Heim of Diavolo Dance Theatre.

I always use the word “we” because at the end of the day, we — my team and I — are one person. I am brilliant because of the people around me. I may look good on the outside but really I am only one voice. My design team and my dancers make the work happen altogether and that is what is really important. The Diavolo creative process is the purest collaboration. We all have to like it. We all have to hear each other. We all have to be generous and together we look brilliant as a team. This job would suck if I did everything all by myself.

Myra Joy Veluz' Stage and Cinema interview with Jacques Heim of Diavolo Dance Theatre.

I do not choreograph. I actually direct movement. I draw the blueprint by coming up with the concept and ideas and then I work with the dancers and my production, lighting and set team. I also give homework to my dancers because they construct the movement. I bring in associate choreographers and rehearsal directors into the rehearsal space and we work on creating. We, Diavolo, are not really dance. When you dance you are in a studio by yourself in front of a mirror researching movement. For instance, you think about what looks good and what step comes next. The focus of Diavolo is creating an architectural environment and focusing on the direct relationship between the human body and the structure in the piece. That is the metaphor. We create architecture in movement. I am an architect of motion.

Myra Joy Veluz' Stage and Cinema interview with Jacques Heim of Diavolo Dance Theatre.

In regards to Fluid Infinities, we have no idea how we came up with it. Besides, when we collaborate the credit of the work belongs to everybody. We did not know if it would be good, decent, or crap. But the work is completely different than what Diavolo has done in the past. For this final installment, my musical director Chad Smith, chose the Philip Glass piece. Initially, for the structure I wanted to have a sphere but that led to questions about how to manipulate it. The dancers would have to break it down and piece it back together. Myra Joy Veluz' Stage and Cinema interview with Jacques Heim of Diavolo Dance Theatre.Ultimately, we wanted to have purity within the movement so that the focus was not how to build and break down the structure but how everything on stage is moving together as one. The lighting for this piece was also really important so at one point in rehearsal, I might say “it would be great to have natural light.” But making that happen is the work of my lighting designer, John E. D. Bass. Actually, that is how we came up with the reflective floor: I wanted to light the dancers naturally.

If the audience were sitting here in the rehearsal room, I would say that the work of Diavolo really pushes you beyond your limits because sometimes in life you feel you cannot make it. My role here is to fight for the dancers so they never feel abandoned and alone. I make sure I push them so that they are confident they can do it. The dancers are pushing themselves beyond their own expectation and my goal is to help guide them along the way

Diavolo is honored to have the opportunity to premiere the trilogy in its entirety at the Movimiento Festival in Wolfsburg, Germany May 22-26, 2014. This is the first time we will perform the trilogy in an indoor theatre. The Los Angeles Philharmonic plans to also premiere the trilogy, L’Espace du Temps, at the Hollywood Bowl in the near future.

photos by Mara Zaslove, staff photographer for Diavolo Dance Theater

Fluid Infinities
Diavolo Dance Theater
part of Music by Glass – Dance by Diavolo
LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl
Thursday September 5, 2013, 8:00PM

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Bramwell Tovey,  conductor
Diavolo Dance Theater

ADAMS: The Chairman Dances Program Notes
PROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet Suite
GLASS: Symphony No. 3 / Fluid Infinities (LA Phil-commissioned world-premiere choreography)

for tickets, visit LA Phil / Hollywood Bowl

for more info on Diavolo Dance Theater, visit http://www.diavolo.org/

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