Jacques Heim has been obsessed with geometric shapes for years. After founding the Los Angeles-based dance troupe Diavolo in 1992, his passion got translated into full-blown stage sets, custom designs that include a 21/2-ton aluminum wheel, a 17-foot-long rocking boat and a humongous cube with more configurations than Mr. Rubik's.
Heim's latest creation is no less striking. Resembling an oversized simian brain, a gigantic honeycomb or some kind of alien starship pocked with holes, this otherworldly structure is part of "Fluid Infinities," a work that began with a few children's blocks in 2005, and culminates on stage Sept. 5 at the Hollywood Bowl.
The final piece of the trilogy known as "L'Espace du Temps," "Fluid Infinities" is a Los Angeles Philharmonic commission set to Philip Glass' Symphony No. 3, performed by Diavolo. The trilogy premiered in 2007, with the hyper-physical troupe dancing to "Foreign Bodies," a work composed and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Diavolo followed with 2010's "Fearful Symmetries," set to John Adams and conducted by Bramwell Tovey, who returns to the Bowl for "Infinities."
It's been an epic journey for Parisian-born Heim, 49, and Chad Smith, the L.A. Phil's vice president of artistic planning.
During a rehearsal break at Diavolo's 6,000-square-foot Brewery studio east of downtown L.A., Heim, dressed in signature black, explained: "This is an eight-year collaboration, with Chad Smith as my producer. I first came to him with three pieces of wood I found in an elementary classroom in Aspen, Colo. Each block was a pyramid and together they created a cube. Chad looked at this, then gave me the green light."
Heim likens their collaboration to his work on outside projects: choreographing Cirque du Soleil's "Ka," which opened in 2006; being creative director for 2010's Opening Ceremony of the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China; and, last year, as consulting choreographer for "Ice Age Live!," an arena show touring Europe. (Heim has also been asked to direct a "Holiday on Ice" show, which he said he's considering.)
"All those projects are giant training, with deadlines and demands," said Heim, the grandson of Jacques Heim, a couturier who co-invented the bikini and designed gowns for, among others, Edith Piaf and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. "They also helped me develop how I direct a group."
Smith, who first saw Diavolo perform about a decade ago, said he was "overwhelmed by the combination of athleticism and beautiful choreography."
"In 2005, Jacques and I began conversations about doing something together," Smith recalls. "He'd always worked with his own composers to create music to fit his choreography. I thought it would be interesting if he created a new narrative to existing music. He agreed and from those original meetings, Jacques created a meta-narrative that takes us through the trilogy and lands at 'Fluid Infinities.'"
Lewis Segal, then The Times' dance critic, described Salonen's "Foreign Bodies" as "one of those rare events that defines the art of this city."
Recalling the 2007 work, Salonen wrote in a recent email: "When Diavolo performed Heim's choreography to my [work], I was astonished at how naturally they translated my ideas to movement. What impressed me most was their intense physicality, which manifests itself not only in risk-taking but also in lyrical, deeply touching islands of intimate expression."
Heim's latest, neo-Kubrickian creation, designed by architect Adam Davis and constructed by Diavolo's go-to auto restoration and metal fabrication firm, McCluskey Ltd., cost north of $150,000. It also features a 12-by-3 foot plexiglass tube reminiscent of Elon Musk's Hyperloop transportation capsule. "The dome," Heim said, "could be an egg, a spaceship or an unconscious place."
Whatever it is, it involves risk.
But unlike with earlier structures, the dancers won't be manipulating the 1,600-pound orb. ("Symmetries" featured performers breaking apart and rearranging heavy columns; "Bodies" had dancers push an 800-pound cube, Sisyphus-like, to fashion a mutating landscape.)
In fact, said Heim, his latest opus is "99% dance," with the 10 performers executing thrilling duets, trios and Rockettes-like unisons on a 1-ton, polished stainless steel "deck." To that end, Heim tapped former Diavolo member, Monica Campbell, to be associate choreographer.
"Jacques' work has definitely evolved," said Campbell, who teaches dance at Utah Valley University. "The company still has powerhouse athleticism, but there's more nuance now."
Bramwell Tovey, through email, described Heim's work as more organic and musical since he conducted "Symmetries" in 2010. "Jacques reflects the way Glass uses the architectural form of the symphony with the dancers' physicality to create beautiful art."
And like most modern dancers, the performers are barefoot, no matter that they climb on, around and under the fiberglass moon, popping in and out of its Swiss-cheese-like holes like terpsichorean mice.
Garrett Wolf, a 13-year Diavolo veteran, is the only dancer to perform the entire trilogy. Being sneakerless resulted in him slipping on the dome's surface, resulting in five stitches to his shin.
"When I joined Diavolo," recalled Wolf, 36, "it was mostly gymnasts, stunt people and actors. Jacques' outside projects have broadened his thinking, and now, with these wonderful dancers, he's really come into his own. But pain," he added wryly, "still comes with the job."
Heim acknowledged that accidents happen, citing Sarah Guillot-Guyard's horrific death in June from a 50-foot fall during "Ka" as "tragic. A series of incidents led to this," said Heim, "and it's being investigated. But what we do — live entertainment — can be dangerous. It's the same with Diavolo performers, you must get back on the horse. The show must go on."
And so it will. After Thursday's performance, Diavolo, in its 14th year of international touring, hits the road again, with the entire trilogy being presented next May at the Movimentos Festival in Wolfsburg, Germany.
In the interim, "Infinities" poses rather lofty questions.
Heim, who prefers calling himself an "architect of motion" rather than choreographer, said: "This is a meditation about where do we come from, where are we going, what is our true destiny? At the end of the day, should these questions be answered?
"The beauty of life," he said, "is we don't have all the answers. My dancers and I are exhausted mentally and physically right now, but we're satisfied that 'Fluid Infinities' is a beautiful ending of the trilogy. There's something special about what we do."
Diavolo Dance Theater with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Where: Hollywood Bowl
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 5
Cost: $1 to $104
Info: (323) 850-2000 or http://www.hollywoodbowl.com
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