For Jacques Heim, artistic director of Diavolo, diversity is important to the balance of a dance company
Jacques Heim’s decision to study dance was not motivated, as one might suspect, by inherent litheness or a natural sense of rhythm. The Paris native, in fact, originally dreamed of becoming an actor when he entered the U.S. in 1983 to attend college. Unfortunately, Heim’s heavy accent thwarted his attempts as a transplanted thespian. As fate would have it, that very same accent assisted him in discovering his true calling.
“My English was so bad nobody could understand me,” Heim recalls. “I had some friends in the dance department [at Vermont’s Middlebury College] who asked me to join them. They said, ‘At least you don’t have to speak.’ That’s how I ended up in the dance world.”
Today, Heim is the artistic director of Los Angeles-based dance company Diavolo, which he also founded. The mission of the troupe is to employ dance to explore the complex relationships between people and their physical surroundings. Indeed, architectural structures are the central inspiration for each of Diavolo’s works. This unconventional blending of dance and design are the result of Heim’s long-held passions.
“I was this person who loved the arts,” Heim says. “I love design, and I have a love and affinity for architecture. I fell in love with movement, which is a universal language. You don’t need to understand it to enjoy it. [With Diavolo], I decided to mix my love for architecture and love for movement.”
Diavolo returns to North Texas March 10–11 for the Dallas premiere of L.O.S.T., an acronym for the title Losing One’s Self Temporarily. The piece unfolds in two parts: Cubicle and Passengers. The first is an examination of the American corporate workplace; the second is a transformative train journey.
Heim suggests that, given today’s political landscape, works that explore themes of freedom, unrest, oppression and hope are more significant now than when they were first created. They also serve to showcase the athletic abilities and tremendous physical endurance of the show’s five female and five male dancers. The show is so rigorous for its dancers that Heim requires a 25-minute intermission between parts.
“Those two pieces are physically demanding,” Heim says. “I know you would imagine that every dance such as ballet and traditional modern [dance] is physical, but the work of Diavolo is on a different level of physicality. The 10 members of Diavolo go at it for 35 minutes [at a time] nonstop.”
Heim aims for diversity among Diavolo’s dancers, an equilibrium he sees as a key to the company’s enduring success. He’s found that if dance companies lacking variety in gender, ethnicity and sexual identities can result in imbalance. As an example, Heim recalls a time during the company’s formative years when he noticed that all of his dancers, both male and female, happened to be heterosexual. It was an issue he soon corrected.
“The day I had diversity, it was the perfect balance,” Heim says. “It became this beautiful balanced company. The more diverse you are, the more balanced your community becomes. If suddenly I realize I don’t have diversity, I stop everything. I go after diversity.”
While visiting Dallas, Heim will hold auditions for dancers who wish to join Diavolo. Those lucky enough to get offers are required to commit for a minimum of two years. Heim says that Dallas has proven in the past to be a fertile ground for recruiting new performers. He also feels that Dallas has become an important arts center in which he would today consider residing.
“Dallas, it seems to me, has changed a lot in the last 10 to 15 years,” Heim says. “The theater district and the city [have grown]. It’s become a really great city. That was my impression when I came in a couple of years ago. I thought I could live there.”
Dallas, of course, would be lucky to have Heim — accent and all.
— Scott Huffman
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition MARCH 3, 2017.