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Flying Foot Forum dancers ham it up for gleefully overstuffed ‘French Twist’

July 5, 2018

If it was good enough for the company’s 15th anniversary, why shouldn’t it suffice for the 25th?

“French Twist,” the Flying Foot Forum’s gaudy celebration of Gallic froufrou and frivolity, premiered 10 years ago in the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio. Writing for the Star Tribune, dance critic Camille LeFevre called that 2008 dance-theater production a “fantastical mélange of hyperkinetic dancing, rapid-fire rhyming, wildly inventive percussion, live on-stage music and vibrantly patterned costuming.”

All five items in LeFevre’s descriptive fusillade are still true, even with Flying Foot Forum adding new elements to the “Twist” revival that opened last week at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul. The show is gleefully overstuffed.

All the dances and songs serve the same purpose, one the company made its mission over the past quarter-century: to showcase the expressive power of percussive dance. Thanks to tap and hambone, audience members are able to see the outlines of stories.

Company founder Joe Chvala choreographs, directs and stars in “Twist,” playing a preening and pompous royal in the very short opening act titled “All Creatures Now Are Merry-minded.” (Chvala also works with Cindy Forsgren on the loud costumes.)

Chvala returns as the club owner behind “Chez Jojo” in the second act, featuring a slew of Francophone characters with names such as Gigi (fussy Jan Campbell), Zhou Zhou (witty physical comedian JP Fitzgibbons) and Frou Frou (Josephine Baker-esque singer Falicia Nichole).

The hardworking ensemble, which dances feverishly and also hams it up, orbits Chvala for the show’s mostly wordless vignettes. In the first act, they tap in twos and threes, often in sync. It’s charming stuff, as when two of Chvala’s longtime collaborators, Karla Grotting and Campbell — both founding members of Flying Foot Forum — team up with Molly Kay Stoltz for a friendly yet competitive tap number with chairs near the top of the show. Intentional or not, that gorgeous bit nods to stately dressage.

The action often is accompanied by descriptive music performed by percussionist Peter O’Gorman, accompanied on keyboards by Eric Jensen.

And then, near the end of the second act, “Twist” features a short film that follows a chef into the kitchen. Really. Created by Chvala and Steve Campbell, it’s of high quality and it gives the hoofers a rest. Still, it breaks the show’s momentum.

“Twist” also includes Brandon A. Jackson’s La Bijou, a drag character who channels Paris as much as Mardi Gras. La Bijou is literally dressed like a float, and rides around stage attached to a contraption that speaks both to the ambition and the occasional clunkiness of this over-the-top and often entertaining homage to French culture.

rpreston@startribune.com • 612-673-4390

Twitter: @rohanpreston

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