Reflections On Experiencing And Expressing Insight

This weekend we hosted a performance by the dance company Diavolo.  You may be familiar with them as a finalist on America’s Got Talent, but they have been around since 1993 and have been on my radar since the early 2000s. They have been on my wishlist of groups to present for nearly two decades so I was happy to have the opportunity to do so this weekend.

They bill themselves as “Diavolo: Architecture in Motion” because they utilize some pretty significantly sized objects as part of their performance. I have included their sizzle reel below so you can get a sense of what that means.

I wouldn’t consider myself a dance person really at all. When I was watching the performance, I started thinking that they, moreso than any other dance or cirque type company I had seen, really honored the size, mass and shape of the objects with which they were working.

Instead of deciding what they wanted to do and then building an apparatus to make it happen, I felt like they started with the object as a partner and then created their work, acknowledged the fact the item blocked our sight at different times to hide and reveal things. I had the sense they were following the existing weight and motion of the objects rather than making the objects serve their purpose.

Almost immediately, I questioned whether it was really true they were among a few focused on synchronizing with the objects and honoring their physical properties to create dance vs. bending objects to their needs. I suspected they weren’t the only dance company that started from the physicality of the object and created from there. I figured it was likely I had seen it happen a dozen times before and had finally accumulated enough experience that I recognized what was happening.

I want to resist a simplistic explanation of experience and exposure. Research is showing that people are not “aging into” an appreciation of classical music. I don’t want to credit what I was recognizing this weekend as simply aging into an appreciation of dance.

I am okay with a complicated explanation of experience and exposure. I just resist an explanation that implies a sense of inevitability.

A month ago as I was traveling to a conference, I realized I was making little stutter steps getting on and off of escalators and moving sidewalks even though I have a lifetime of experience with these mechanisms. I was thinking about that Saturday night when one of the dancers sat lightly down on the huge rocking semi-circle and traveled upward without disturbing its motion or evincing any difficulty or hesitation dealing with the change of inertia.

The fact drawing a connection between mounting airport escalators and hopping on oversized playground equipment was a necessary element in my enlightenment this weekend indicates that the factors involved in growing an appreciation of a creative discipline are numerous and complex.

I also quickly recognized that “honoring the size, mass and shape of the objects,” was exactly the dense terminology that turns people new an experience off of it. (I swear, I was paying close attention to the performance. I am capable of simultaneously processing epiphanies and sitting in rapt attention.)

The “honoring…” phrase was legitimately the way I encapsulated what I was experience for myself in the moment but it definitely sounds like something someone would say to make themselves sound authoritative and perhaps stifle contrary views.

Basically what I am trying to say is there is nothing wrong with finding that dense, sophisticated terminology is necessary to distill the fullness of your experience for yourself.  Just realize the weight of those words may feel like a bludgeon to those who hear them. Diluting your impressions with broader, simpler context is probably necessary for people to understand your experience.

I think the issue is that many of us in the arts aren’t very practiced in employing the broader, simpler context familiar to our wider community.


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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