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Check Out Jacques Heim’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jacques Heim.

Hi Jacques, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I am the Creative Director of DIAVOLO | Architecture In Motion. I was born in Paris, France and spent my first nineteen years there. As a rebel teenager and as a way to deal with my wild energy, I started a street theater group with a few friends. It was a way to escape from our own demons and routine life. We performed in the street, on top of cars, in abandoned buildings, in restaurants and at private events. In some instances, we even got arrested by the police. It was an exciting time! But after being kicked out of six different schools, I needed a completely new direction, a new adventure, something that would give me a purpose in life. My family told me: “You need to leave France and go to the land of opportunity. You need to go to America.”

So in 1993, I went to college at Middlebury College in Vermont. My plan was to be an actor but my English at the time was so bad that nobody could understand me on stage. While performing (which was rare!), I could actually see the first few rows of the audience looking at each other wondering what the heck I was saying. The Dean approached me to tell me that I should reconsider acting. Luckily, I had some friends who were in the dance department. They told me, “why don’t you come and take some dance classes, at least you don’t have to speak!”

That’s how everything started…

I created my dance company in 1992 after attending graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA. Based in downtown Los Angeles, I decided to name my company DIAVOLO | Architecture In Motion. I was always inspired by architecture and by this beautiful universal language called dance. In 1999 we started to tour all over the United States and all over the world.

In addition to creating shows for DIAVOLO, I was also hired to work on outside projects. I served as a choreographer for Cirque du Soleil’s show, “KA” at the MGM Las Vegas. I was also hired as a Creative Director for both the Opening Ceremony of the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China and for “Ice Age Live!”, which premiered a the Wembley Stadium in London. For NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” I choreographed six new performances all of which reached hundreds of thousands of people through syndicated national television.

In addition to creating new work, DIAVOLO also creates community engagement programs. Six years ago, I started to work with the Veteran community. There is a great parallel between the work we are doing in DIAVOLO and what the Soldiers of all the Military branches go through: teamwork, trust, danger, survival.

The brave men and women who have come back from their deployment and service need all the care and support they can get. We owe them all their sacrifice and commitment. Through our work, we offer movement workshops that culminate into a live presentation in front of an audience. What we do is Restoration. We restore their emotional, mental and physical strengths. We don’t “d a n c e”, we move. We move together, create together and bleed and bruise together. We create a battalion of humans, caring and supporting one another.

I operate both as a drill sergeant and a football coach. My goal is to push them beyond their own limits so they can re-discover who they are, what they are made of. I have to have no pity for them in order to do my job. I don’t care if they have mental or physical pains and cannot do certain movements (of course I care, it’s an act). They need to find a way to do it, fight the fight altogether in order to surpass their boundaries. This intense mental, emotional and physical process makes them realize that whatever situation they are in, whatever they are dealing with in their civilian life, they can always accomplish anything if they put their mind to it and never abandon themselves.

Through The DIAVOLO Veterans workshops, veterans are equipped with mental and physical tools they can use in their everyday life. After six years of producing workshops, not only in Los Angeles but in many different parts of the United States, we realized the incredible positive impact it has had on the veterans themselves. Working with our Veterans Program Executive Producer, Dr. Lieutenant Colonel Art Degroat, who is the head of Military & Veterans Affairs at Kansas State University, we established a system to capture the data of the impact of our workshops. The results are pretty phenomenal. We discovered that medication and therapy are not the only remedy for PTSD, anxiety and depression.

In 2022, The DIAVOLO Veterans Program created S.O.S., Signs Of Strength. This intense, powerful and beautiful piece is performed by Veterans and Civilians (i.e., Dancers). Throughout the piece, we hear the stories of 8 Veterans and their experiences in their service and combat, fused with vulnerable, emotional and powerful movement complementing their stories.

Our Veterans in S.O.S. are Freddie Basnight, Veronica Burgess, Valentina Cahill, Chris Loverro Daemion Marcuz, Ejay Menchavez, Tess Rutherford and Anthony Simpson.

S.O.S. feels that you are watching a documentary, that you are in the middle of a Hollywood action movie. It is socially relevant and extremely entertaining. It shows how amazing the Veterans are, how incredibly committed, resilient and dedicated they are. They are true warriors in all sense of the word and all civilians have something to learn from them.

The reason we mix veterans and civilians together is to show that we are all the same. In the performance, everyone is dressed the same to confuse the audience. They are unable to recognize who the dancers are and who the veterans are. I want the audience to realize that whether you are a civilian or a veteran, we are all beautiful humans who need help, support, care and love.

Most veterans wish they could go back to their service or deployment, not because they enjoy the horror of war but because they develop an incredible bond and a tight connection with their fellow comrades. Through this, they create an incredible support system that they cannot find coming back into their civilian life. They and their fellow comrades care for one another and support each other no matter the situation or the color of their skin. They put aside their differences, whether it is religious and/or political beliefs. They all come together in the face of danger to protect one another like there’s no tomorrow.

You can feel that sense of belonging through S.O.S. It makes you analyze who you are. You reassess your own core values.

Sebastian Junger, a war journalist wrote in his book Tribe, “How do you become an adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?”

Those questions are always in my mind and I have been trying to answer them without any success. Working with Military Veterans, it has giving me a new understanding about myself and about humans.

Our goal for The DIAVOLO Veterans Program is to have a permanent space in Los Angeles. It will be big enough to produce all our veterans workshops and classes. It will also serve as an office space in order to run our program all year long.

This program has changed the lives of many veterans. I live in this amazing country, the United States of America. It has provided me with incredible opportunities. Our Military protects every single one of us and keeps our country safe so we can live in peace and in prosperity. I need to do my part as a civilian and help our Men and Women of the armed forces as much as I can. This is my mission.

I realized that all along, what I created with DIAVOLO, is not just a dance company but a program to help humans discover who they are through the work we create. The reason they work is intense and dangerous is not for the “wow factor” but because when you put people in a state of survival, they come closer together and they start to realize what they are made of. They push themselves beyond their own limits. They start feeling alive, feeling they can accomplish anything they want and feeling they have a new purpose. Our work celebrates Humanity. Maybe it is what I missed all along when I was in Paris.

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.” – Sebastian Junger

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Nothing in life is a smooth road. If it was too easy then everyone would want to be in the Arts. Being an Artist in dance is extremely challenging, especially in this country. In comparison to other countries, there is minimal support and resources.

There has been a lot of obstacles throughout my thirty years as an Artist and there are plenty more ahead! Unfortunately, you have to figure it out along the way. There is no right road map that tells you where to go and how to do it.

In this industry, you cannot buy experience. You just have to pay your dues. Unfortunately, you end up realizing that you never finish paying your dues. You learn that you don’t take anything for granted and you never feel you are entitled of anything. There is something humbling about that, a great lesson of life.

In my spare time, I watch a lot of boxing. Over the years, I’ve learned that true fighters always find a way to stand up when they are down. Even against all adversities, you have to learn to bounce back against all challenges. You learn to never abandon your goals, never feel defeated, but always understand that this is part of this long journey we call life.

When I started my company, DIAVOLO, in 1992 and started to tour nationally and internationally in 1999, I did not know what I was doing. Looking back, this was great in a way because I had no idea if I was making the right choice or going in the wrong direction. You are just going on a wild ride and feeling free!

I enjoy painful results and failures because behind great defeats, there are always some types of victories. When you have too much success, it can undoubtedly create unnecessary ego. You are just one step away of potentially failing miserably.

When I finished creating the piece Trajectoire in 1999/2000, which has grown to become our signature piece, I felt that I knew everything. The next piece I created was Dreamcatcher in 2001. I didn’t give it as much attention and thoroughness as I should have. When it premiered, I was sitting in the audience. I realized then it was a complete disaster! I immediately left the theater, went to the lobby, got a bottle of wine, hid in the bathroom and drank the entire bottle. I looked myself in the mirror and said “don’t ever do anything like this again.” Since then, every time I’ve started a new project, I repeat to myself that I don’t know anything. I’ve learned to surround myself and collaborate with a team of artists that are smarter and more creative than me. I’ve learned and continue to learn from them every single day.

Having a dance company with 6-10 dancers who only need to carry a suitcase and costumes is normal. Creating a dance company with 14 dancers where you have to transport large custom-made architectural structures in an eighteen-wheel truck is not practical and very expensive. The logistics of rehearsing and touring is a great endeavor. Going from one city to another, loading in and out at theaters, assembling and disassembling structures, ongoing maintenance of structures on site, and preparing for technical rehearsals of our show is insanely difficult and expensive, especially in the non-profit sector.

Before even commencing on a project, there are already numerous major obstacles in front of us. Every step I took cost 3-4 times more than any other traditional modern dance company. It’s like starting a race 100 feet behind everyone else. But somehow that struggle built resilience and the desire to find a way to figure it out. It is like being stuck in a maze trying to find the exit… by the way, I am still stuck in that same maze…. LOL!

I wish I would have found early in my career a group of people that could have guided me both artistically and financially. That never quite happened though. People want to first see what you are made of and whether your work is worth supporting.

The 2008 recession was definitely another giant obstacle. The gas price skyrocketed and having a truck on the road crossing the country, going to 20-30 different cities was outrageously expensive. Touring internationally also had its challenges. The stock market plunged and people did not want to invest in shows or pay a lot of money to bring companies from far away. We had no choice but to cut our tour by half which meant less revenue, less performers and crew on the road, which in turn affected the quality of our shows tremendously. As tickets slumped, theaters reassessed risk. Dance in general does not make as much money as other art forms. So when this financial crisis happened, dance was unfortunately the art that get cut right away.

Touring internationally is very exciting. There is a great responsibility presenting your work and representing your country. You feel you are a cultural ambassador and are providing a close glimpse to life in America. One of the struggles however, is that you don’t quite know all the rules and regulations in foreign countries. The contracting, permitting, and overall logistics are quite difficult. We got taken advantage of a few times working in China and South Korea. Looking back, I wish I had a better understanding of international law. We learned the hard way. Knowledge is power and we did not have it that time.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in 2020, the first few weeks were filled with panic, fear and confusion. I truly thought the journey of DIAVOLO was coming to a close. This was definitely an obstacle of a grandiose magnitude! I could hear the referee counting down the ten counts over my body as I lay on the ground. But we found a way to stand up like a true boxer!

After clearing my mind and drinking another bottle of wine, looking at myself in the mirror, I said out loud: “Wake up, shake yourself out, show me what you are truly made of and find a solution how you are going to reinvent yourself and survive!” I remembered the days in the streets of Paris, the rebel warrior inside of me, trying to create against all odds.

I thought it would be a good idea to do a film celebrating two kinds of warriors: Military Veterans and First Responders. There is a parallel experience between both of them. One is fighting a visible enemy and the other is fighting an invisible one (the virus). About four months into the pandemic, we created a 30-minute short film titled This is me: Letters from the front lines. The film told the stories of a few veterans, a doctor, a nurse, and an EMT about their struggles, their resilience and sacrifice during the pandemic. It was very therapeutic to have the entire DIAVOLO creative team and all the performers coming alongside as a battalion in the trenches, facing this invisible enemy, sharing how we felt in this moment and only using, as our weapons, the Art of Dance.

In a moment of crisis, you have to find a way to reinvent yourself. So using zoom, we continued to provide classes and veteran-based workshops. Zoom saved us and brought us together in a completely different way. Weirdly enough, at times, it made us even closer than in person. You could be alone with another person in their own home and discover their life. You could connect with anyone in the world using this incredible technology.

Over our 30-year history, one of the amazing struggles we continue to deal with includes audience members not truly knowing how to describe what we do: “It’s not pure dance, it’s not circus, it’s not theater…it’s a fusion of many movement languages with powerful themes, that makes the work of DIAVOLO quite innovative.” We realized that the work of DIAVOLO belongs one foot in the non-profit sector and one foot in the commercial world. For the last year, we connected with many different entertainment companies to pitch them different ideas for commercial live shows, whether it is in a traditional proscenium stage, a warehouse, an outdoor space, or any other unconventional setting.

We realized that the aesthetic of DIAVOLO | Architecture in Motion and the way we create live shows is still a secret for so many people. DIAVOLO continues to be very different from any other work out there. Our mission is to create socially relevant work that celebrates the diversity and complexities of humankind. Using custom-made architectural structures, DIAVOLO combines storytelling and movement with the goal of restoring one’s mental, physical and emotional strengths.

We dream, we believe and we have hopes…and so let’s see where our future will bring us…

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I was named after my grandfather, Jacques Heim, the late and revolutionary fashion designer who, in 1946, launched the first-ever two-piece bathing suit called Atome, later renamed The Bikini, and also invented le pret a porter, or Ready to Wear. Just as my grandfather broke ground in the fashion industry, I try to challenge and break the mold of conventional wisdom surrounding dance, developing the unique and incomparable aesthetic of Architecture in Motion®. ​

In addition to founding DIAVOLO and serving as the Creative Director, I’ve also worked extensively in dance, theater, television and special events throughout the world. In 2017, I created six new performances based on DIAVOLO creations for NBC’s America’s Got Talent, which resulted in the Company becoming one of the top ten contestants in AGT’s finale at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater. I recently directed DIAVOLO’s special appearance on Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde’s New Year’s Eve 2017, one of the most-watched TV shows in France. DIAVOLO also appeared on Helene Fischer’s 2017 Christmas Spectacular, where the German superstar sang while rigged atop one of the Company’s massive structures.

In 2004, I choreographed KÀ for Cirque du Soleil at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, a destination show featuring apparatus inspired by DIAVOLO structures. In 2010, I was invited to be a Creative Director for the Opening Ceremony of the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. I’ve also worked with Guy Caron and Michael Curry as a consulting choreographer on Ice Age Live!, a “mammoth” arena show which made its world premiere at London’s Wembley Stadium in November 2012 and is now touring throughout Europe.

I’m humbled to have received three USA Fellowship nominations and four Alpert Award nominations. I have also been the recipient of the Martha Hill Choreography Award of the American Dance Festival; the Special Prize of the Jury at the 6th Saitama International Dance Festival; a Brody Arts Fund fellowship; a James Irvine Foundation Fellowship; and I was the 2016 Barney Creative Prize recipient.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
For those just starting off, I would employ them to build their entrepreneurship and fundraising skills as they are detrimental in this industry.

My early career was filled with the romanticism of being an artist. I focused my attention on building my craft which is incredibly important as well. Yet it does not encompass all that is needed in order to build a flourishing artistic institution.

Every artist is a salesperson. So you must take the time to develop your artistic language for your work. More importantly, as we emerge in this new world, you need to take your entrepreneurship to another level. You must understand business fundamentals, including resource development, accounting, and relationship building.

I must say that I did not do this in my early career. I was a victim of the romantic side of the arts. So once I knew how important all these skills were, I had to play “catch up”. And let me tell you, it takes time. So start as soon as possible!

The next generation of artists will not only be great at their craft. They will also need to be versatile. You will need to expand your intellectual resources by learning multiple types of art forms whether it is drawing, digital rendering, film and editing, and even movement. Use your artistic skills to tap into multiple mediums in order to stand out in this incredibly competitive field.

Lastly, surround yourself with people that have more experience than you. At the end of the day, you cannot buy experience.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Jacques Heim headshot by Leandro Glory Damasco, Voyage by Cheryl Mann (costume in brown and black with woman back flipping off moon structure), Fluid Infinities by George Simian (man standing on moon structure), Passengers by George Simian (colorful costumed people by stairs, woman in all red jumps center with man in green and brown jumping above her), Voyage by Cheryl Mann (wheel structure with man in yellow costume back flipping off), S.O.S. Signs Of Strength by George Simian 2 (woman on pole reaching up in background as man flips from platform in foreground, dressed in green), S.O.S. Signs Of Strength by George Simian (many performers dressed in green and browns reach from wall structure), Trajectoire by Cheryl Mann (three woman in white costume fly through the air off of boat structure), Trajectoire by Lawrence K. Ho (boat structure rocked to left as woman in white does extended “flag” pose on outside of structure)

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