Saturday, June 30, 2018

"French Twist" by Flying Foot Forum at Park Square Theatre

To celebrate their 25th anniversary, Joe Chvala's percussive dance troupe Flying Foot Forum* has brought back their original dance musical French Twist. Now playing on Park Square Theatre's Andy Boss stage in the basement of the Historic Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul, it feels like a weird and magical dream of a barely remembered night in Paris. A series of thrilling and entertaining dances loosely tell the story (with very little dialogue) of a group of friends in a cafe called "Chez Jojo" (the proprietor played by Joe Chvala, natch). With vibrant costumes, a detailed and eclectic set design, a mix of live and recorded music (and film!), the wonderful ensemble of dancers/singers/musicians brings this dream of Paris to vivid life in what would be a perfect 90-minutes-no-intermission (if not for the early and unnecessary intermission). Escape the hot and steamy streets of St. Paul to the cool and fun world of French Twist (through July 15).

There's not really a plot to this story, it's more of a meandering experience through an idyllic Paris night. Each vignette tells a little story in itself, all woven together and flowing seamlessly from one to the next. You barely have time to recover from one breathless thrill before the next begins! Joe Chvala's choreography includes many styles but is consistent in its ingenious use of rhythm. There's tap dancing in which the dancers feet accentuate the rhythm of the familiar recorded song, more flowing traditional partner dance, and my favorite - the foot-stomping-body-slapping dance that beats out a rhythm all its own, with or without accompanying music. And of course, a night in Paris is not complete without the can-can!

at Chez Jojo (photo by V. Paul Virtuccio)
This wonderful ensemble is made up of not only terrific dancers (including two other founding members of Flying Foot Forum, Jan Campbell and Karla Grotting), but also wonderfully expressive comedians. With exaggerated make-up and bright colorful flamboyant costumes, they ham their way through each little story. Live music accompanies some of the dances, including Peter O'Gorman on percussion (of drums, body, and voice), Eric Jensen on piano, and fabulous singers Brandon A. Jackson and Falicia Nichole. We also get to see a charming short film of music/rhythm/comedy created in a kitchen using only common kitchen equipment.

The Andy Boss stage has been turned into a charming and brightly colored Parisian cafe, complete with parasols, drapery, flowing blue fabric representing the river, and art (including that creepy face from Toulouse-Lautrec's At the Moulin Rouge). Just when you think you've taken it all in, you find there's more to discover as a curtain is drawn back or you notice some detail (like a piano!) you haven't seen before. All of the elements of the show combine to create an atmosphere of fun and wonder (set design by Robin McIntyre and Joe Chvala, costume design by Cindy Forsgren and Joe Chvala).

I don't see a lot of dance, but I never miss Flying Foot Forum's unique and theatrical creations.* There's nothing pretentious or intimidating about this dancing, it's fun and accessible and thoroughly enjoyable for everyone. See it between now and July 15, and as a special treat you can also see a presentation of new works by Flying Foot Forum on July 2 and 9 (click here for more info).

*I'm super excited that another original dance musical created by Flying Foot Forum, Heaven, is also coming back to Park Square as part of their 2018-2019 season. I saw it at the Guthrie in 2011 and absolutely loved it.