Review: Diavolo snares audience with 'DreamCatcher'

A sign on the refrigerator at Diavolo Dance Theatre's Los Angeles studio issues a challenge: "Do one thing every day that scares you."

At that rate, this nine-member company wouldn't have been ready for its Friday evening Lied Center performance of "DreamCatcher" for at least another year.

The daredevil troupe of dancers, gymnasts, actors and athletes is known for creating works in which they interact with objects. Its latest offering, co-commissioned by the Lied Center, revolves around a massive aluminum dream catcher that measures 18 feet in diameter and spins on a horizontal axis fixed to two triangular supports.

According to American Indian tradition, the dream catcher is a woven spider web with a hole in its center that catches and holds good dreams and lets dangerous ones pass through.

Diavolo's industrial version of the Native symbol began as a web, with intertwining ropes radiating out from a circular portal. In one after another impressive display of strength, the dancers scaled the web, dangled from it one-handed, then feigned to lose control and tumble like limp noodles to the stage floor -- a risky proposition in itself.

But then the contraption started to move. Quickly.

With their colleagues clinging to ropes, handles or anything nearby, dancers took running charges toward the bottom of the wheel, pushing with all their might. Those who remained on the floor made intricately planned choreography look like close calls with disaster, leaping and ducking at just the right moments to narrowly avoid the wheel as it barreled toward them. Dancers used the set's momentum as a spring board for flips and leaps, always trusting others in the company would be there to catch them.

If you could catch your breath long enough to notice, "DreamCatcher" told a love story of sorts. At its beginning, middle and end, single male-female pairs interacted in front of a screen that temporarily separated them from the dream catcher. They embraced, fell apart, flirted and faced off as spotlights cast their shadows on the screen. Their interactions left room for interpretation: Were these lovers, siblings, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons?

These slow, intimate moments accelerated into fast-paced, gravity-defying sequences. Through the course of the hourlong dance, the ropes were replaced with long poles and then a metal nucleus that, in the end, encased a male-female couple.

Original music composed for the dance by Nathan Wang worked like a movie score. For example, swelling strings indicated romantic interludes, while erratic electronic runs marked scenes of danger and suspense.

The wildly diverse score enhanced the work's ambiguity by ending on a hauntingly sinister note that perhaps signaled trouble ahead for the couple that had at first seemed snug and secure in the nucleus suspended at the center of the dream catcher.

Diavolo artistic director Jacques Heim founded the company in 1992, and this was its third stop at the Lied Center. It's no surprise that Heim just finished choreographing the next Cirque du Soleil show; for the most part, Diavolo's performance seemed less like dance than carefully scripted acrobatics and stunts blended with a heavy dose of theatricality.

Not too far beneath the wow-factor of "DreamCatcher," however, lay an intellectual exploration of dreams, fears, hopes and passions. By their very willingness to hurl headlong into pulse-raising, physics-busting feats, the dancers personified the concepts of human connection and faith.

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