By Sue Moore
The scene in the Schoolcraft Middle School library was one of adulation as all the school’s 5th graders crowded around their hero, Matt Wagner. He talked about his experiences as a gymnast with the Diavolo dance troupe which performed at Miller Auditorium on Feb. 27 and 28. The students attended the daytime performance on the 28th as part of Kalamazoo County’s Education for the Arts program.
Wagner grew up on Barton Lake, attended school at Howardsville Christian school and was a neighbor of Kelli Mein, one of the fifth-grade teachers in Schoolcraft. She had invited Wagner to come and talk to the students while in Kalamazoo for the performances. He was gracious enough to oblige, she said.
The students’ hands were up repeatedly, asking questions about his work, his experiences and even his conditioning for the arduous dance routines the unit performs. The group is subtitled “architecture in motion. The routines resemble modern dance to some extent but also involve athletic techniques, gymnastics and endurance. The structures they perform on cost millions to construct, Wagner told the students.
Some of the questions they asked:
How much do you practice? “Sometimes many hours a day.”
Do you know how to play Fortnite (an online video game)? “Yes, but I don’t play it.”
Why is Jacques the leader? “It was his dream to have a dance troupe.” Jacques Heim is the troupe’s founder and artistic director.
How much does it cost for the entire troupe to travel? “A lot. The 16 to 18 people have to fly, stay in a hotel room, travel in buses to get to the performance venue, rent studios for practice, pay for food for each day, employ truck drivers for the rented semi-trailers, costumes and sets. It adds up fast.”
What’s the biggest theatre you have performed in? “One in Germany where we appeared on TV.”
How did you come up with the logo? “Jacques actually did and this is the second one we have that plays on the name Diavolo.”
Did you win on America’s Got Talent? “No, we placed second.”
Did you get to talk to the winners? “We spend a lot of time waiting around backstage and get to know the other contestants.”
Do you get paid for doing this? “Not a lot but getting paid for what you love to do is not a problem.”
Do people recognize you when walking down the street? “No.”
Can you do a back flip on the ground? “Yes.”
Can you do a side aerial? “Yes.”
Do you get injuries? “We don’t use safety nets or mats when flying. We do have bumps and bruises but that just goes with the territory.”
After the performance some students waited around to get Matt’s autograph and ask him a few more questions. It appeared that they felt a little star struck and desired to know more.
When asked if he had any advice for the 5th graders, he replied, “The more you do, the better life can be for you! Always be willing to try new things!”