“Here are our rock stars!” shouts a grinning Jacques Heim, artistic director of Diavolo Dance Theater

Heim is like that, full of jolly bluster and French bonhomie. It's part of his charm, his public signature. His greeting was directed at the boys pictured above, Angel Aparicio, 16, Gareth Surjue, 15, and Seth Milner, 16 (left to right), who had sauntered into Diavolo's mammoth dance studio at the Brewery Arts Complex on a recent afternoon. Diavolo's business manager, Ilona Plotrowska, had chauffeured the boys from their school (downtown's new Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts) to a rehearsal.

They weren't there to dance, though; they were going to skateboard. And Heim has hired them to act themselves, normal L.A. teenagers. That was easy enough. It's the nonchalant cool and daredevil risk-taking of the skateboard culture that were partial inspiration for the piece Heim is currently choreographing, Transit Space.

The boys' work with the company is one part of a high-profile residency Diavolo has with the Music Center of Los Angeles County (under the auspices of the Pacific Standard Time juggernaut). That residency also includes several free public events on the Music Center Plaza: a screening of the skateboard documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, on Nov. 5 at 6:30 p.m., and open rehearsals of Transit Space from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 12 through Monday, Nov. 14.

That's Heim in the middle, working with Shauna Martinez and Ben Sayles.; Credit: Laura Bleiberg

That's Heim in the middle, working with Shauna Martinez and Ben Sayles.; Credit: Laura Bleiberg

How much artistic motivation Heim is actually putting toward the arrangement is uncertain. Heim has choreographed a little more than 10 minutes only of Transit Space, which will be a 35-to-45-minute work when complete. (It premieres at Penn State in April 2012; there are no confirmed Southern California performance dates yet.) But Transit Space's themes, music, sets, text and special effects have been meticulously mapped out already. The 10 dancers, it must be pointed out, will not be skateboarding. Heim said he has deconstructed skateboarding movements, and the dancers will “use their bodies as the board.”

Still, it's clear there's a mutual feeling of fun and respect between these teenagers and Heim. The choreographer talks to the boys about how they overcome their fears of executing dangerous moves. He observes their mannerisms and how they dress, and says those elements will be incorporated into the piece, such as in the costume design.

The boys — who have an official title, “artistic advisors” — have separate rehearsals from the rest of the company. Two Diavolo dancers have helped the boys choreograph a skateboarding routine that they will perform on the Plaza Nov. 12-13, using the Transit Space wooden ramps and metal bridges.

The teens are definitely into the process. Seth made this drawing (below) for Heim, casually handing it to him when he walked into the studio.

Seth's drawing he made for his choreographer, Jacques Heim; Credit: Seth Milner

Seth's drawing he made for his choreographer, Jacques Heim; Credit: Seth Milner

Said Seth, “You never see skateboarding and dancing together.” Added Gareth, “It's really cool, actually. To show it off is really cool.”

Angel noted that the skateboarding “dance” has been a challenge: “It's definitely really cool, but it [the routine] is out of our nature because it's choreographed. Usually I improvise.”

“They are getting paid,” Heim said to me, then shouted out, “How much are you getting paid?”

Two-hundred-and-fifty dollars, someone replied.

Heim is yelling again, in mock horror. “That's bullshit! You should be getting $500. Tell them you won't do it for less than $500!”

Business manager Plotrowska runs over to Heim and tries to shush him.

But Heim just grins.

Diavolo residency is at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Outdoor screening of Dogtown and Z-Boys is Nov. 5, 6:30 p.m.; open rehearsals Nov. 12-14, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. These events are free.

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