Dance review: Diavolo meets John Adams at the Hollywood Bowl
Since its formation in 1992, the Diavolo ensemble has used portable architectural units to create movement theater about our relationship to an unstable environment. Artistic director Jacques Heim has sent his fearless performers plunging off a rocking platform, bursting out of trapdoors inside a staircase, scrambling over fast-evolving pyramids and hanging onto wheels of every possible size at every possible height and angle.
To say Diavolo is exciting is redundant -- the question is always whether there's anything deeper than the high-risk gymnastics and advanced theater technology on view. The answer was mostly yes at Hollywood Bowl on Thursday when this Los Angeles-based company premiered “Fearful Symmetries,” a major collaboration commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic as the second installment of a projected Diavolo trilogy that began with “Foreign Bodies” three years ago.
The 10 cast members proved brilliant at making precisely coordinated feats look improvisational, even reckless -- but, at their freest, they remained under the thumb of two master manipulators (not counting Heim). One was Adam Davis, who designed the giant cube that became the focus of the piece. This mysterious structure held all sorts of hidden panels, apertures and crevices, but quickly opened up to evoke a whole cityscape, then divided into rectangular platforms that became everything from towers to surfboards. (Mike McCluskey and others engineered the unit.)
Even more dominant in “Fearful Symmetries”: the 1988 score of the same name by John Adams -- an intricate, churning and often threatening showpiece that challenged Heim and the cast to match its scale and intensity. Even those of us who saw preview showings of the work weren't prepared for the way conductor Bramwell Tovey and the Philharmonic asserted Adams' fierce authority on Thursday. And by failing to embody the darkness in the music, parts of the last third of the Diavolo performance looked arbitrary and insufficient.
Before those lapses, however, acts of collective and individual heroism fused with the music in ways at once startling and uplifting -- Omar Olivas leaping across tilting precipices; Trevor Harrison avoiding obstacles with one dynamic flip after another; Garrett Wolf fighting for survival inside an imploding cubicle; Shauna Martinez forcing the whole set to pivot open for her as if breaching the gates of hell.
Watching them, did we think of 9/11, Katrina, the firestorm in San Bruno? Why not? The best moments in “Fearful Symmetries” showed a familiar landscape suddenly becoming dangerous and people forced by an unexpected loss of control to discover new capabilities and relationships. In form, the piece depicted a search -- one that initially focused on the cube, with Diavolo exploring inside, outside, above and below it. By the end, even the ground had opened, forming new plateaus and canyons to be investigated, and the search continued with no cube in sight.
Stay tuned for Part 3 -- to premiere, one hopes, before Dec. 21, 2012, when (Nostradamus and the Mayans warned us) we'll definitely need all of Diavolo's lessons about enduring environmental calamity with grace and high spirits.
Besides “Fearful Symmetries,” this final night of the Bowl's classical season included danceless orchestral performances of two works originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes. As orchestrated by Berlioz, Weber's “Invitation to the Dance” has served great male stars from Vaslav Nijinsky to Nikolai Tsiskaridze in a ballet titled “Le Spectre de la Rose.” Tovey's leadership enforced vigorous attacks at the work's massive structural junctures, but a rather tame interpretation of its sweeter moments. Nice playing but little surge.
The 1919 suite from Stravinsky's “Firebird” had atmosphere galore, plenty of sizzle in the Infernal Dance and impressive surety in the transition from the shimmer of the Berceuse through the fervor of the finale. But the dance impetus virtually evaporated in the Dance of the Princesses. String playing sounded especially admirable -- particularly in the high exposed passages of the Dance of the Firebird.
Besides colleagues previously mentioned, Diavolo on Thursday included Briana Bowie, Philip Flickinger, Ashley Hannan, Melinda Ritchie, Anibal Sandoval and Chisa Yamaguchi.
The company returns home on Jan. 21 and 22 for performances at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
-- Lewis Segal
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Photos: Diavolo on stage at the Hollywood Bowl. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho