The sound of feet padding on the floor reverberated through the Merritt Dance Center Monday night, mixed with the excited giggles of young students and the encouraging guidance from Diavolo dancers.
“In our work, it’s so dangerous to not have eye contact,” said Amy Tuley, a dancer in Diavolo and the rehearsal director.
The Los Angeles-based company, whose full name is Diavolo: Architecture in Motion, will perform Wednesday night (Jan. 30) at Proctors. The group is renowned for its daring and intricate footwork and acrobatic stunts, especially with the larger than life, industrial props. Led by founder Jacques Heim, Diavolo was also a finalist in 2017 on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” It was an intense time for the company’s dancers. The rehearsal and filming schedule started bright and early in the morning and often wrapped up 10 or even 12 hours later.
“The rehearsals were insane,” said Ezra Masse-Mahar.
The dancer is no stranger to the wooden floors of the Merritt Dance Center; it was basically a second home when he was growing up in Schenectady. He started dancing at the Center when he was about 5 and kept it up all throughout high school, entering competitions and dance residencies.
“He’s always been a worker,” said Mara Merritt, the owner of the Center. After studying dance at the University of Buffalo, he joined Diavolo in 2012 and toured internationally with the company and performed with them throughout “America’s Got Talent.” He is an understudy in Wednesday's performance.
Diavolo’s performances require not only impeccable footwork but seamless communication.
Which is exactly what Tuley, along with several others from Diavolo were working on with Merritt students on Monday.
“We always love any opportunity to do outreach with both dancers and nondancers,” Tuley said, “to get to share what we do with people [and] why we do this.”
Through trust and communication exercises, as well as more acrobatic and classic ballet moves, they shared the foundation of what the Diavolo dancers do on a daily basis.
Kids and young adults, from ages 5 to 20, were taught the importance of eye contact, trust and spatial awareness with games like passenger-driver, where one dancer leads another around while his/her eyes are closed.
They also had to complete some boot camp-like workouts, complete with planks and push-ups.
“Many of the ladies in Diavolo are stronger than the men,” said Diavolo dancer Chris Carvalho to the group as they were completing a round of pushups.
“Oh, cool,” said one young girl with a smile that seemed too big for her cheeks to hold.
Then she got right back to work.
The dancers in the company are incredibly athletic -- for example, in 2017, on a relatively short break from dancing, Masser-Mahar biked from Los Angeles to Schenectady in 35 days.
Diavolo dancers have to be strong, as well as agile and excellent communicators, not only to create an awe-inspiring performance but because their work is dangerous.
Diavolo doesn’t perform one style of dance but what’s been referred to as a salad of dance styles, like ballroom, break dancing, jazz, ballet and acrobatics.
"It’s just a combination of all these different backgrounds that people have, and the goal is to collaborate these different styles. The company also incorporates risk and danger,” Masser-Mahar said.
On Wednesday, Diavolo will perform “Trajectoire,” which Masse-Mahar calls a classic image for the company; the dancers move an incredibly large and heavy structure on stage about halfway through the performance.
The company is also bringing, “Voyage,” one of its newest works. It tells the story of a woman’s journey to the moon and back to earth using a few classic Diavolo props. Tuley describes it as an "Alice in Wonderland"-esque journey through self-discovery.
From the start of Monday’s class, many of the students at the Merritt Dance Center said they were planning on attending Wednesday’s show and by the end, they came away with a newfound appreciation of the hard work that goes into it.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
MORE INFO: proctors.org