BWW Review: Flying Foot Forum's FRENCH TWIST Frolics at Park Square Theatre

BWW Review: Flying Foot Forum's FRENCH TWIST Frolics at Park Square Theatre

Flying Foot Forum is one of the Twin Cities' most original performing companies. What they do-full evenings of original percussive dance, often with a historical or cultural jumping off point, and always with a big dose of humor-is unique. FRENCH TWIST (or parts of it) has been in their repertoire since 2008. A revival with new bits plays just through July 15 at Park Square Theatre's basement space in Saint Paul, as the company celebrates its 25th experimental season.

What exactly is percussive dance? Tap is the core genre, but these dancers incorporate other styles at will, including in this case flamenco and tango and body slapping and Eastern European inspired boot slapping styles.

This version of FRENCH TWIST has four segments. The first features eight dancers who also sing, while dressed in fantastically colorful outfits that include zany takes on Japanese obis, Turkish turbans, ostrich feathers, striped silk shirts, foulard prints, and brief appearances by several Shakespearean characters, like Cleopatra and Hamlet. Eclectic? Campy? Fun to watch? All of the above. Part two is a two person dance battle with body percussion, titled 'Sur La Rue.' Together these two parts last 30 minutes.

After an intermission, a larger group of performers (including two singers) send up a Parisian cabaret called Chez Jojo with cascading dances in various styles. We get a flamenco segment and bits that call up "Singin in the Rain" as well as edgier segments like a 'nurse' who administers 'medications' and the massive drag performer La Bijou, Chez Jojo's black cabaret singer. At one point, the dancers get a breather while a short film of company members in chef's outfits making percussive magic with whisks and bowls and graters and wooden spoons plays on a dropped sheet. Blended into the mix are sendups of foodie talk and the avant-garde art scene of the 1920s. The whole concludes with a can can finale featuring more over-the-top costuming, including, yes, La Bijou wearing an 8 foot table as panniers, the 18th century style of side hoops that has got to qualify as one of France's most foolish fashions ever.

Park Square's basement thrust space keeps the audience close, but presents sight line issues, especially for the film. It's decorated with blue and purple tulle, a blue linoleum floor with white stars, and suggestive touches of candles and boas and wine bottles, plus a small stage platform with foot lights. Keyboard and drum kit are tucked in the corners. Dancer timing and spacing were precise and impeccable in the tight quarters.

Joe Chvala is the founder and artistic director of Flying Foot Forum. He's a virtuoso force on stage as a dancer and comedian, but offstage too, not only as choreographer and director, but also with a hand in designing sets and costumes and composing music and creating film. Unstoppable and irreverent, he clearly revels in unpredictability and imagination. Flying Foot Forum has work in progress that is film based, and is slated to perform a piece called HEAVEN next June at Park Square. Mark your calendars: chances are you'll be in for something completely different.

Photo credit: V. Paul Virtuccio

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From This Author Karen Bovard

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