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Diavolo Troupe Goes for Gold With Mesmerizing Athletics

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you can imagine Olympic athletes who devote less attention to winning and more to design, you have the general idea of Diavolo Dance Theater, which provided a kind of “opening ceremonies” excitement at the downtown California Plaza on Friday night.

Both Diavolo and elite athletics involve dynamic tasks and bodies sailing through space, barely avoiding collision or collapse. Of course, Diavolo has the advantage of compelling music--usually a taped electronic score that sounds like an interplanetary dream sequence or a New Age car chase. But the dancers have the same attitude toward an apparatus as athletes do: that inanimate objects are there to animate the creative potential of the human body.

Take the new piece “Apex,” in which four unassuming stepladders become the inert partners of Otis Cook, Nick Erickson, Meegan Godfrey and Allen Moon. Unlike Fred Astaire in his playful movie duet with a hat rack, these dancers make the ladders work. They climb and balance on them, interrupt their falls and spin the closed ladders in intricate patterns, as if Home Depot had sold them awkward chorus girls. Jean-Pierre Bedoyan’s score includes industrial noises, sounding a little like a jazz club that decided to open before construction was finished.

Another premiere, “Capture,” is more of a romance, with a prop that seems to represent the peaks and perils of relationships. Darren Press stands inside a large silver half-sphere, secured by his ankles and dressed in a long black skirt, while Lara Hudson dives into and over him with lyrical gymnastic moves. They are taken flying by the tilt and whirl of the half-sphere, pausing breathlessly at the brink of overturning. This piece is reprised on the July 18 Dance Kaleidoscope program at the Luckman Theatre. .

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The program was completed by “D.2.R. II,” a modified version of an older work that has the company flying over, down and into a large tilted panel; and the wonderful “Te^te en l’air,” their signature “descending a staircase” piece. These works--collectively choreographed by artistic director Jacques Heim and the company--don’t have the hard slam of hyperdance, a movement with which Diavolo has been associated. Diavolo’s touch is too light and too rhapsodic for the arid aesthetic of hyperdance. They manage to be stimulating without assaulting--no mean feat.


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