In the Moment: DIAVOLO ‘The Veterans Project: A Long Journey Home’ at The Kennedy Center

“We all move, we all walk, we all run, we all fall, we all can even dance.” said Artistic Director Jacques Heim of DIAVOLO. With a motto of “architecture in motion” DIAVOLO will be bringing its highly original, contemporary styles of dance and motion melded with architecture to the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater this month.

DIAVOLO performs The Veterans Project: A Long Journey Home. Photo by George Simian.

What caught my eye leading to this column, is DIAVOLO’s performance of The Veterans Project: A Long Journey Home. It is the second of three distinct pieces that will be performed the evening of Friday, February 23 and Saturday, February 24. It caught my eye, since as a vet, I am aware that less than one percent of American adults are serving on active duty on any given time, and that about 20 military service members returning from active duty are taking their own lives each and every day.

So with that, I went forward to learn more. Right off in an interview with Heim, I learned that for him, in this time of uncertainty, when America is divided about military service and foreign policy, DIAVOLO believes it is important to focus “on projects that not only help and support others, but also bring people together.” Entertainment with a larger purpose can do that. It can build new intersections between civilians and military service members. (This is not about elected officials and top-level policymakers, but about the day-to-day folk who serve and day-to-day civilians.)

The Veterans Project: A Long Journey Home was conceived by Heim and DIAVOLO’s Jennifer Cheng, as a community-based project featuring military veterans onstage, who likely had never trained before as a dancer or performer. Heim described The Veterans Project as “medicine for military service members. As a way to bridge the increasing gap between those who serve and the civilian population.”

The notion that there is a need to connect with military services members with civilians came to Heim when he came to this conclusion; “I had no idea about the life of military service members and especially what they go through.” He wondered “what do I know about those who are serving to protect us with their sacrifice and commitment. Those risking their lives?”

He asked himself how military service members are making their transition to become civilians once again, whether with a diagnosis of PTSD or not.

As our interview continued, it became clear that Heim wants to find a way to help military service members returning home to “restore their confidence as they transitioned back to civilian life.” Further, Heim wanted his Veterans Project: A Long Journey Home to connect returning vets and civilians so as to better bridge the increasing divide between them. As a recent Pew Research Center report noted there are fewer and fewer such connections.

In fact, today there is a smaller share of Americans currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces than at any time since the peace-time era between World Wars I and II. And this as the military has been engaged in the longest period of sustained conflict in the nation’s history, with troops serving in far-off countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and even Niger.

Further inspired by Sebastian Junger’s novel Tribe and the personal stories of veterans, DIAVOLO’s dance/movement program aims to support veterans as they find and restore resiliency that may have been diminished during combat or during their difficult transition back into civilian life.

With private donations of foundations and everyday people, Heim has created a 16-week-long workshop for the vets to help build “a sense of and a spirit of community. Movement helps as a new tool to live by.” The 16 weeks of workshops help to tackle depression, push them to move, andentally “find a way to restore confidence and accomplish something they may not think they could do.”

DIAVOLO performs The Veterans Project: A Long Journey Home. Photo by George Simian.

DIAVOLO performs The Veterans Project: A Long Journey Home. Photo by George Simian.

And now the vets will be coming to the Kennedy Center to perform and enlighten. The performance will be movement and theatrical. It will include very short personal introductions of each of the dancers/vets so they are more personalized to the audience. With recorded music, dramatic lighting effects, percussive use of poles, solo and group movement upon a 6-foot by 6-foot movable riser. The Veterans Project aims to awe and connect with the audience. There will also be effective use of excerpts from the brilliance of poet and WWI veteran Siegfried Sassoon from his 1917 poem, “Sick Leave,” that still resonates a century after it was written.

I then had the opportunity to chat with one of the dancers, Christopher Loverro, a United States Army veteran. For Loverro, “DIAVOLO has been a life-changing event.” It enabled Loverro to “to find peace since returning from war.” As a side note, he is now the founder of Warriors For Peace Theatre, a company that uses Shakespeare as a form of catharsis for returning veterans.

Loverro made clear that DIAVOLO helped him “to not become one of the returning from war statistics,” those 20 or so who take their own lives. Working with Heim and DIAVOLO, said Loverro, “challenged me in different ways on his long journey to find myself and centeredness and peace.”

“The combination of a challenging movement and mental regime with its community-building, and trust-building was a powerful catharsis,” said Loverro. “I learned that there are no barriers, only those we create for ourselves in seeing the beauty of the self within me.” Working with DIAVOLO helped him reduce his anger. “There was no longer a need to carry anger and hate within me.”

The Veterans Project: A Long Journey Home is a powerful experience, noted Loverro. As we ended our conversation. Loverro said this, he hopes the audience will see what someone had told him after a recent performance when an audience member said this, “I saw you were dancing for your lives.”

Let me end with this very personal note as a vet from a long-ago conflict. Loverro said this and it brought me silence of understanding, “I don’t want to fail those who did not come back. I want to honor those who served on my left and on my right. I want them to know I am obliged to be the best person I can be because of them.”

DIAVOLO plays February 23 and 24, 2018, at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (800) 444-1324 or go online.

Note: The full DIAVOLO program is below.
Passengers (from L.O.S.T. Losing One’s Self Temporarily)
D.C. premiere of a work that explores what divides and unites us as we traverse through our daily lives.

The Veterans Project: A Long Journey Home D.C. premiere. Performed on a 6 ft x 6 ft platform, raised 18 inches off the stage. The platform has casters and moves about the stage. There are sockets for poles and lights. The poles are used for an assortment of activities.

Trajectoire
D.C. premiere a journey through the ebb and flow of the human experience. As the performers struggle to find their balance on a voyage of destiny and destination

Performance Timing: Part I – 30 min.; Intermission – 20 min.; Part II – 30 min.; Intermission – 15 min.; Part III – 30 min.

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