There is a moment before every Diavolo dance performance, where the dancers huddle together and look into each other’s eyes and say, “I would die for you.” It’s an important moment to refocus and tune in, because the work they do is often literally death defying.

This dance company, known for leaping tall buildings and flying on stage, is not made of superheroes but super-trained dancers, gymnasts and actors who create work collaboratively under the guidance of choreographer Jacques Heim. One of those dancers is Shauna Martinez, a Kansas native, who is now the company’s rehearsal director assisting Heim. Campus Circle recently talked with Martinez about their new piece called “Transit Space,” which the company is creating in residency at Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center.

“Transit Space,” is inspired by skateboard culture, a sport and an art form ‘invented’ in SoCal in the 1950s, so this show is part of the epic Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980, an event happening at more than 60 cultural institutions in and around Los Angeles. This piece has grown the way many Diavolo pieces do, where Heim has a sculptural structure that he wants the dancers to move within, so the set designs become an intrinsic part of each work. The company was given large skate ramps and wanted to investigate what it would be like to “ride” them. The dancers first worked with the structures and with skateboards then they invited young high school skaters to collaborate as advisers to help build the piece, as well as perform in a section of it.

Martinez says, “All [the] dancers did [their] own research then invited the students in to work. They showed us the tricks that they always used, and we talked about the freedoms of skating and the sense of rebellion.”

But it turned out that with boarding, most of the dynamic tricks that actually happen are with the boards not the bodies. Although the dancers wear helmets and padding, they don’t ride any boards but instead the dancers become the boards and translate those feelings into their bodies. Their bodies also worked with the relaxed and free feelings riders get when on a skateboard. Whereas skaters take turns on ramps, each focusing on their own tricks or talents that work (almost) all the time, the dancers have to remain a tight unit.

“Skaters definitely have a different mentality. It’s more free-flowing. If they make mistakes they just get up and try again. Like breakdancers, each is still an individual performer that feeds off the other. Dance on stage is so much more structured so that everything can match, and we can move as one unit,” says Martinez.

Skaters are a pretty relaxed bunch. Sure, it looks terrifying to watch, but they hold a certain faith within themselves and trust that they will be fine. Diavolo works consistently with the same kind of faith in themselves, but also with each other. The young high school students invited to be part of the creative process are excited to find it a little more work than a weekend ride.

“They are being charged to use their craft in a different way,” says Martinez.

Maybe the experiment will create a new kind of synchronized skateboarding for the next X Games.

As in other Diavolo pieces like “Foreign Bodies” or “Tragic Flaws,” Heim and company members begin with pushing themselves physically, working on the structures and challenges and eventually finding stories, characters and inspirations through the process that are metaphors for the challenges of relationships, the absurdities of life and the struggle to maintain humanity in our world.

“There are parts with fun connections: chance meetings, getting lost, finding your way, being jumbled. The mood is dynamic,” shares Martinez.

Diavolo is hoping that they can bring the dynamic risk and free feeling of such an urban-inspired piece to the audience.

The Diavolo residency at Music Center Plaza includes a film screening of Dogtown and Z-Boys, the epic skateboarding doc that includes footage from the 1970s and is narrated by Sean Penn, on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 6:30 p.m., and the FREE open rehearsals are Saturday, Nov. 12 through Monday, Nov. 14, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Music Center Plaza is located at 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown. For more information, visit

Diavolo Website