DIAVOLO’s “In Flight” – Courtesy Photo
By May S. Ruiz
DIAVOLO, fresh from its performances on NBC’s ‘America’s Got Talent’, makes its high-energy Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley debut at Arcadia’s Performing Arts Center on September 23, 2017 from 7:30 – 9:00 pm.
Featured during this maiden show is DIAVOLO’s groundbreaking masterpiece, ‘Trajectoire’, which will be seen in its entirety for the first time on the West Coast this year. Also performing on the stage are students of Arcadia High School’s ‘Orchesis’ and the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena.
“Jacques Heim, DIAVOLO’s Creative Director, and I wanted to bring the Aesthetic of Architecture in Motion to Dance Conservatory of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley,” states Cheng. “Dance in Los Angeles is experiencing tremendous growth; L.A. is fast becoming a new and exciting center for this art form in the world. We want to share this extraordinary new phase in dance to Pasadena, Arcadia, and all of San Gabriel Valley.”
Cheng’s lifelong passion is dance. Growing up in Pasadena, she started ballet at the age of five with Yvonne Cusack. She then trained with Stanley Holden as one of his first students at the Music Center in Los Angeles and then later at his dance studio in West Los Angeles.
When she was 15 years old, Cheng received her Advanced Certificate from the Royal Academy of Dancing. She was also the recipient of the Ford Scholarship for the School of American Ballet. As a young dancer, she performed with Rudolf Nureyev and the Australian Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet, as well as dancing on various television shows like the ‘Brady Bunch’ and ‘The Odd Couple’.
However, Cheng’s parents didn’t want her to have the life of a dancer – eking out an existence in New York City, trying to find a job that was difficult to come by. So she attended Pomona College where she received her bachelor’s degree in art history. She then earned a law degree from UC Davis School of Law, and an MBA from UC Irvine School of Management.
Cheng went on to practice law but the dream of being in the dance world stayed with her all these years. In 2011 she quit the law profession and founded the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena (DCP) on Waverly Drive. Its mission is to provide the highest technical and artistic level of instruction for students to pursue careers as dancers, with an emphasis on offering performance opportunities.
“We started six years ago with just two teachers and grew pretty fast – we now have four studios and over 200 students,” Cheng describes. “Our classes are divided into the children division for three through nine years old; pre-professionals are 9 years to 18 years old; and advanced ballet for adults. Sessions are held after 3:00 from Monday to Friday and on Saturday. Adult lessons are held mornings from Monday to Thursday and Saturday morning.
My students perform and compete as well. We just finished the second year of competition and we won first place at the semifinals at Youth American Grand Prix in San Diego, which automatically qualifies us for the New York City finals.”
Adds Cheng, “While I established DCP primarily as a ballet school, we realized contemporary dance is an important component of one’s dance education to make it as a professional performer. I brought in DIAVOLO to DCP’s studio, and that enabled us offer two levels of contemporary dance courses.
DIAVOLO is recognized as a contemporary and physical movement dance company. We’ve been in existence for 25 years and are known all over the world. In February 2018, we’ll be performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., then touring the United States and internationally.”
DIAVOLO’s “Trajectoire” – Courtesy Photo
Established in 1992 by French-born choreographer and visionary Jacques Heim, DIAVOLO reinvents dance and reimagines theatre to create genre-bending stage performances with striking set pieces. It is a cultural pillar of the Los Angeles community and has performed for hundreds of thousands of concertgoers worldwide and for millions on television.
“My students at DCP perform twice a year and we do a summer program,” discloses Cheng. “We’ve presented ‘The Nutcracker’ as a full production ballet with 100 students participating. We needed a professional venue which can accommodate a large number of performers and I discovered the Arcadia Performing Arts Center where we’ve performed it for two years now.
I personally think that there is no major dance, music, and media center in the San Gabriel Valley. Most performing arts events happen at the Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills or the Broad Stage in Santa Monica and stop at downtown Los Angeles. This year I met with a couple of PAC’s board members and told them I believe this theater should serve as the center of performing arts in this area.”
Cheng’s involvement with DIAVOLO led her to organize events where her students will be performing its dance style; DIAVOLO’s debut at PAC is the result of that collaboration. And because PAC is on the Arcadia High School (AHS) campus, she thought it makes perfect sense to invite AHS’s dance company, ‘Orchesis’, to perform as well.
Robyn O’Dell, dance teacher at AHS, says, “Orchesis is the advanced level dance course at AHS. It is an art elective class for 10th to 12th graders and I currently have 30 students. We hold four performances on campus and we go to different events and festivals. Our biggest shows are Homecoming, the December Holiday program, and the spring dance production held in April.”
Continues O’Dell, “I teach a variety of dance techniques including contemporary, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, and modern. Each year we bring a cultural style so students learn hula and Bollywood. For our main show, which we gear up for every year, we perform 24 dances in an array of different styles and we bring in professional choreographers to work with the girls.”
“Ten of my students are working with DIAVOLO. It’s a volunteer course, they rehearse after classes, and they don’t get grade credit,” O’Dell declares.
The Arcadia Performing Arts Center, one of San Gabriel’s Valley’s premier arts and entertainment venue, is a cultural destination and youth talent incubator that makes great art accessible to all. Featuring a 1,163-seat main stage and black box theatre, this state-of-the art professional venue reaffirms the district’s 66-year legacy of arts excellence. AHS alums include Stevie Nicks, Van Halen’s Michael Anthony Sobolewski, NFL Hall of Famer marching band member Bruce Matthews, and Emmy award-winning producer of ‘The Voice’ Barton Kimball.
Maki Hsieh, Executive Director of PAC, pronounces, “It is the Center’s privilege to host world-class treasure DIAVOLO which exemplifies integrity of artistic vision through the creative direction of Jacques Heim, and the executive leadership of Jennifer Cheng. DIAVOLO’s infusion of power, precision, and passion in their groundbreaking performances, integration of up-and-coming artists, and global expansion are aligned with our Center’s focus on next-level immersive programing, and on advancing arts education in our new generation of cultural ambassadors.”
Ticket prices to the performance range from $15 to VIP $70; VIP Red Carpet is from 5:00 to 7:00 with appetizers, music, after-show meet-and-greet; and season passes at $10 – $45.
For Cheng, the event marks a step in the right direction for her, “I wanted to continue my passion and fulfil my dream. I can’t be a dancer, but I certainly can bring dance to Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley and to the United States, through DIAVOLO.”