DIAVOLO’s ‘This Is Me: Letters from the Front Lines’ artistically shares stories of veterans and first responder

In 2016, DIAVOLO started The Veterans Project, which utilizes the company’s unique style of movement as a tool to help restore veterans’ physical, mental, and emotional strengths through workshops and public performances in communities all around the country. The chasm between veterans and civilians is so vast, socially, veterans are at a disadvantage in forming vital connections – connections that the company has explored continuously since. More than 500 Los Angeles area veterans have participated in this project.

In 2017, DIAVOLO enjoyed an especially extraordinary season, highlighted by artistic director Jacques Heim’s creation of five new pieces for Season 12 of NBC’s hit series “America’s Got Talent.”  One of the Top 10 contestants to reach the show’s finale at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater, the Company was seen by over 90 million television viewers with this writer one of the lucky ones in the live audience that night.

After celebrating its 25th Anniversary at The Soraya at Cal Stage Northridge in 2017, DIAVOLO | Architecture in Motion® has now returned for its fourth engagement with This Is Me: Letters from the Front Lines, directed and choreographed by Heim to help illustrate the words of veterans and first responders, interwoven with DIAVOLO’s extraordinary choreography expressive of their thoughts based upon letters written by veterans and first responders about their public service and private lives during the Coronavirus pandemic as a way to explore how the current climate of isolation has encouraged us to look within ourselves. 

This is Me was at a time when most have been asked to halt and withdraw, while others, like soldiers, are charging forward. Through DIAVOLO’s dazzling and dynamic athletic dance artistry and unique staging, the 30-minute film captures the resilience, determination and hope of the human spirit, following the paths of military veterans and first responders as they share what it means to be true warriors on the front lines as well as fight the invisible enemy that all humanity is currently battling. 

The DIAVOLO dancers have been quarantining together during the entire process of creating This is Me to ensure their ability to interact closely with each other in a time when social distancing is the norm. Most wear masks during the performance, which do not distract from the incredibly moving and emotional experience beginning with the introduction of each story by its writer, after which their words are heard in voice over as the performance continues. 

Large set pieces, designed by Adam Davis, Mike McCluskey, Tina Trefethen, Jeremy Railton, and Daniel Wheeler, are moved into place by performers to represent often-compressed places or battle fields, all brilliantly enhanced by lighting designer Jean-Yves Tessier, with cinematography and editing by Aaron Mendez which keep the stories moving seamlessly from one to the next. Emotionally evocative original music composed by Robert Allaire, Bruno Louchouarn, and Jean-Pierre Bedoyan enhances the many moods faced by the featured heroes and dancers’ movement.

The veterans and first responders featured include France Nguyen Vincent, a writer and performer who opens and closes This is Me as she wakes up and finally returns home to her bungalow overwhelmed by today’s COVID-19 reality; Tyler Grayson, a U.S. Army Combat Medic now a registered nursing student; Mariella Keating, an Intensive Care Unit RN who works with critically ill patients at Providence Saint Vincent Hospital in Burbank; Lucas Haas, an EMT whose daily life involves putting his own personal fears aside to care for those in need; Shannon Corbeil, U.S. Air Force veteran is an actor, writer, and filmmaker most recently known for her work on ABC’s “The Rookie” and CBS’s “SEAL Team”; La’Vel Stacy, U.S. Navy culinary who felt as if he was working on an assembly fine rather than fighting on the front lines until he got home; Chris Loverro, U.S. Army Iraq War veteran and retired police officer; and Dr. Sasan Najibi, MD, a board certified general and vascular surgeon and Chief of Staff at Providence Saint Vincent Hospital in Burbank.

With absolutely dazzling and dynamic choreography which combines elements of contemporary dance with martial arts, acrobatics, gymnastics, and hip-hop, This is Me is fueled by the entire realm of human emotions, offering a powerful and incredibly moving visually entertaining experience. Commissioned by The Soraya at California State University Northridge, with additional support and funding by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Arthur S. DeGroat, Ed.D., Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.), U.S. Army, and the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs at Kansas State University, there is no charge to watch it on You Tube at https://youtu.be/bn10eZLXOec or www.thesoraya.org