French Twist romps through Paris,
I saw Joe Chvala's French Twist, my first Flying Foot Forum show at the Guthrie, and entered a percussive world shot with playfulness, exuberance, virtuoso rhythm and visual eye-candy. The show is an enchanting amalgam of dance, physical theater and vaudeville, all performed by a troupe of multi-talented artists.
Twist opens on Michael Hoover's purple-floored set of faux heraldic banners and Victor Zupanc playing a street accordion, part of a four-man onstage band. The period is Paris entre-les-deux-guerres, approximately the 1920s. An artist in a flowing smock paints; lovers, a gendarme and a grande madame, armed with a pink poodle, wander past. The scene takes off when the artist (fluid Joe Chvala) flirts with another man's (Peter O'Gorman) girl. A duel ensues, a duel fought with beribboned tap shoes in Chvala's brilliant choreography of physical insults and flying feet.
The duel chases into the next scene in which the offended man dashes into a kitchen and disguises himself as chef, only to find that he is a substitute head chef. He improvises in one of the finest and funniest pieces in the show. Whoever knew that kitchen utensils had so much potential?
From kitchen to a self-important pasha and his entourage in turbans, and costumer Mary Anna Culligan's bright, flowing robes. Chvala's fey pasha does a little dance, his train-bearer (Doug Anderson) patently bored; he yawns, cleans out his ear and wipes the findings on his master's silken train. The vignette ends in superb competitive rhythmic dancing.
French Twist takes pot shots at other pomposities. At Chez Jojo's nightclub, an object is borne in and placed prominently on a table. The languid sophisticates opine in high-faluting language about its artistic integrity - I won't spoil what follows, but it is hilarious, and O'Gorman performs an amazing voice piece that works as jazz, while recommending the wine.
There are many creative moments to relish, but look out for the tap trio performed by Jan Campbell, Karla Grotting and Julianne Mundale. They dance like a song-round, so that each is one percussive step behind the other, creating a spellbinding rhythm of movement and sound.
Choreographer and director Chvala draws from many traditions to create his work. His physical theater is as original and delightful as Theatre de la Jeune Lune's zany inventiveness; his dances draw upon slap-dance, hambone, South African gumboot dancing and, of course, tap.
Talented Jeremy Bensussan, Charles Robison and singer/dancer Lisa Bark complete the dance ensemble; Alex Schroer, Eric Jensen and Peter O'Gorman the music ensemble.
French Twist is a true ensemble production that goes beyond gifted performers to include Marcus Dilliard's dramatic lighting and Cody Anderson's sound design, which magically turns feet, beans, pots and an egg whisk into musical instruments.
The French Twist ensemble is having so much fun themselves that their joy rolls off the Dowling studio stage and infects the audience.
French Twist May 8 - May 18, 2008. Thursdays - Saturdays 7:30 p.m. Sundays, 1:00 p.m. Tickets $18 - $34. Call 612- 377-2224 or www.guthrietheater.org. Guthrie Theater, 818, South 2nd St., Minneapolis.