If there were any benefit to cutting your arm open on the job — say, a deep gash that requires 20 stitches — it’s that most employees would be told to go home for the day after leaving the hospital. For dancers in Diavolo, if they can move their arm, they can move their legs on back to rehearsal.

If there were any benefit to cutting your arm open on the job — say, a deep gash that requires 20 stitches — it’s that most employees would be told to go home for the day after leaving the hospital.

For dancers in Diavolo, if they can move their arm, they can move their legs on back to rehearsal.

“I see them not so much as dancers, but as gladiators,” Diavolo artistic director Jacques Heim says of his 10-person mixture of dancers, gymnasts, rock climbers and actors. “You can’t be afraid of heights, heavy contact with structures or the human body or of blood.

“Sometimes structures have their own mind. Sometimes there are unfortunate encounters with them. Sometimes someone gets a cut, goes to the hospital, has 20 stitches and comes back a couple of hours later to finish rehearsal.”

Heim might sound more like a drill sergeant than a choreographer, and he admits he’s perhaps the most conventionally dyslexic and inflexible artistic director you’d ever meet.

A large-scale interdisciplinary production, Diavolo blends dance, gymnastics and theater, using everyday backdrops and props and placing participants on mammoth, rocking wooden boats, staircases with trap doors and floors, and elevated steel tunnels.

If some of that sounds akin to Cirque du Soleil, that famous institution tapped Heim to choreograph “Ka,” its action-packed Las Vegas show at the MGM Grand. Like Cirque, Diavolo’s acrobatic, athletic leaping and twirling often serves as metaphor. Here, it’s for the fragility of the human condition, life’s absurdities and a struggle to retain humanity amid technology.

“It’s quite a different experience than watching a lot of contemporary dance events,” says Robert A. Vaughn, director of Sangamon Auditorium. “They’re one of my favorite ensembles and almost no one knows them in this area.”

When Heim founded Diavolo in 1992, he didn’t want to create another company in a vacuum or to land on “the bottom line of the list of the arts.” Structure and design always were dear to him and, in another life, Heim says he would be an architect. Heim’s Diavolo creations always start with a structure’s schematic drawing. Theme and movement is considered next and, even then, Heim turns choreography over to dancers.

“The first thing I see is the structure, then how movement will manipulate that, and then how movement will manipulate the human body,” Heim says. “The dancers create their own movements together, putting themselves in these sorts of creative situations of chaos and survival.”

Diavolo’s artistic themes of social order and disorder have been heavily inspired by Heim’s experience during the Northridge, Calif., earthquake in 1994. A Paris native and longtime Los Angeles resident, Heim had never met his neighbors before the earthquake.

“Suddenly, everyone came out, sharing food, blankets and water,” Heim says. “When you’re in that state of survival and danger, so many people come together. I’ve tried to recreate with the dance company that kind of community. A piece’s presentation is not the most fascinating thing to me, but rather what the dancers go through to create it. Our company is all trust and teamwork.”

Nick Rogers can be reached at 747-9587 or nick.rogers@sj-r.com. Read his blog, Unpainted Huffhines, at blogs.sj-r.com/unpaintedhuffhines.

If you go: Diavolo

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Sangamon Auditorium at the University of Illinois at Springfield

TICKETS: $36 and $31; available at the auditorium box office, by calling 206-6160 or online at www.sangamonauditorium.org