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Diavolo looks at skateboarding for dance inspiration

November 5, 2011 | 11:00 am

JaquesJacques Heim doesn’t mind that his dancers call him Napoleon. “Yes, that’s my nickname,” he says with a chuckle. “But the reason I push my dancers so hard is that I believe in them more than they believe in themselves. I will push them farther than what they think their limit is.”

Heim’s intense and rigorous rehearsal methods have definitely paid off for Diavolo, the choreographer’s almost 20-year-old Los Angeles-based company that has over a dozen works in its current repertoire, travels all over the world and has earned Heim prestigious commissions, such as his choreography for the Cirque du Soleil show “Ka.”

And now Los Angeles audiences will have an opportunity to view the nuts and bolts of Heim’s choreographic process during a first time artist-in-residency program starting Nov. 12 at the Music Center, where Diavolo members will inhabit the venue’s outdoor plaza to rehearse their latest work “Transit Space.” They''ll also be working along with some young skateboarders.

Read about Diavolo, skateboarding and the Music Center residency

“Some of the things I do in a rehearsal might seem random but everything I do has a meaning,” says Heim. “Sometimes this means I give my company specific guidance about a metaphor and other times, I want them to make something happen and I’ll tell them they need to fix whatever isn’t working. This has been my approach for over 17 years and I’ve seen fantastic changes in my performers.”

Shauna Martinez, now in her third season with Diavolo, observes she’s motivated to stay with the company at this point in her dance career because “Jacques holds us at this high level and I feel I need to see how far this company can push me. In college, dancing was easier; we just had to worry about the movement and our costumes,” she says. “In Diavolo, you worry about what protective padding you need on your body, what set-pieces you’re working with and what kind of warm-up you need on any given day.”

Though he might be tough on his dancers, Heim also practices what he preaches. “I’m always pushing myself. Every time I start something new, I have no idea what I’m doing but I have a vision for how things can be,” he says. “And when I know I’m close to failure, I also feel I’m learning a lot and in that space, I progress. That’s the essence of every project I do."

Read about Diavolo, skateboarding and the Music Center residency

-- Susan Josephs

Photo: Jacques Heim, 3rd from left, rehearsing "Transit Space;" Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times