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Posts Tagged Joe Chvala

Brian Sostek, A Mover and A Dancer

Doug Scholz-Carlson (l) and Brian Sostek (r) in a rehearsal with cast members
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

In The Pirates of Penzance, Brian Sostek is the Movement and Dance Director, creating the overall movements–not just for the dance sequences–in the show. It’s actually a collaborative process, starting with discussions to hash out concepts with Director Doug Scholz-Carlson, before the actors even step into rehearsals. They consider such issues as: What kind of feel do they want for this or that number?

Unlike Director Doug Scholz-Carlson and Music Director Denise Prosek, who have a script and scores to follow, Brian doesn’t already have the moves written down. He gets to work on a blank slate, though ever mindful that whatever created must support the telling of the story.

During the start of rehearsals, the cast spent an intensive three to four days with Denise to practice the music before working with Brian. The actors were hired for their acting and singing, rather than dancing, abilities so his first task was to see how they move. That helped him assess how to capitalize on their strengths and how much to push them beyond their comfort levels.

“I told the actors to expect to fail a lot,” Brian said. “Our objective is to find out what works or doesn’t.”

This process of trial and error placed great demands on the actors. Sometimes they’d have invested much energy in learning particular moves, only to have them changed.

Brian also continued to work closely with Doug and Denise throughout rehearsals. It was an organic process where sometimes Doug would be working with the cast and Brian would suggest that they try something or vice versa. Their collaboration became such that they felt comfortable jumping in to build on what the other was doing.

Brian Sostek leads cast members in movements during a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Although his mom and dad had been in show business before becoming academics in dance and theatre, respectively, Brian himself hadn’t planned to follow in their footsteps. He’d transferred from Swarthmore College to Carleton College in his sophomore year with the thought of majoring in Political Science and Russian.

“Then I took a class on African American poetry, and it blew my mind,” Brian recalled. “That led me to start writing more.”

In 1990, Brian earned a BA in English Language and Literature/Letters. Even so, his first job upon graduation was an internship on environmental education in Virginia.

It was Brian’s return to Minnesota–specifically to the Twin Cities–that ultimately led him down his professional path. He’d done some improv at Carleton so auditioned to get into Dudley Rigg’s’ Brave New Workshop. Failing to get cast turned out to be serendipitous. He went on to audition at the Northrop as a background dancer for a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet. (Brian thinks he got the job for being one of only three males who’d showed up, but having studied dance under his mom likely helped as well.)

Later, Brian auditioned for Joe Chvala and ended up performing with his percussive dance troupe, The Flying Foot Forum, for approximately four years. Becoming a dance instructor at a ballroom dance studio also became a major source of income.

In 1996, Brian met dancer Megan McClellan and moved to Los Angeles for about four years before the two returned to the Twin Cities. In 2000, they created the inventive theatre and dance company, Sossy Mechanics. Today Brian remains a successful writer, director, choreographer, performer and teacher.

 


Tickets and information for The Pirates of Penzance here.
Tickets and information for French Twist, featuring Joe Chvala and The Flying Foot Forum here.

Two Stages, Sheer Fun

For many Minnesotan families such as mine, Labor Day marks the end of summer. There is a nervous excitement in our household as another school year begins. What will it bring into our lives? Surely, loads of laughter, tears; much clarity, but just as many misunderstandings; personal highs, and emotional lows. Life is like that–filled with drama, comedy and everything in between.

Excitement also runs high at Park Square Theatre as we begin our 2016-2017 season. This coming week, both our stages will be crazy-busy with marvelous, energetic fun. Park Square presents the area premiere of David Ives’ The Liar on the Proscenium Stage from September 9 to October 2; while Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum complete their run of Passing Through Pig’s Eye from September 7 to 11, a roving performance that starts and ends at the Boss Thrust Stage.

Mounting the production of The Liar has been incredible fun for those who can’t wait to bring it to you live on stage. This summer, I have connected with many of the show’s actors and designers for glimpses of the mischievous world that they plan to entangle us in–a world of intricate wordplay, deceptive scenery, twisty plot and fast-paced humor. In the spirit of the show, individuals also shared their own funny stories about lying. (Be sure to read past blog posts and future ones about The Liar.) Everyone’s enthusiasm has been infectious, and I cannot wait to see this play.

The Liar in Dress Rehearsal

Last week, I brought my entire family to see Passing Through Pig’s Eye. We came not knowing much beyond the fact that we would learn some Saint Paul history but were absolutely WOWed by the inventive dance numbers and often gut-busting humor. All I can say is, “Go see it NOW before you can’t!” In my mind’s eye, I can still see those “crazy legs” of the loose-limbed gangster, tap dancing away in bright red shoes, and the hilarious image of a stage full of dancers holding dodge balls. I can still feel the adrenaline rush of watching anything-goes street dancing, followed by Joe Chvala and longtime Forum member Karla Grotting “dust up the floor” like those movie greats, Astaire and Rogers or Kelly and Reynolds. What hit my whole family hardest about the performance that night was the sheer joy of the dancers on the stage and on the street, having so much fun doing what they love most.

Passing Through Pigs Eye

The end of summer doesn’t mark the end of fun, just anticipation for more to come. Consider coming down to Park Square Theatre soon to share in the fun–our fun, your fun, sheer fun!

What Will You Do With It?

Joe Chvala

It is a sunny but cool morning when I visited Joe Chvala.  I pass through the wooden gate to enter a green world loosely guarded by two gargoyles. It’s something to do with how the light filters through his yard that makes me expect something magical to happen. The White Rabbit from Wonderland may scamper past in a rush, or the Cheshire Cat may show himself on a tree branch. Calmly seated outside by a table on the porch is Chvala himself, like his garden, kind of otherworldly and timeless.

I have come to interview Chvala about Passing Through Pig’s Eye, a roving performance through historic Saint Paul by his percussive dance company, Flying Foot Forum, and guest performers. The show runs from August 25 to September 11, with its start and end points at Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage within the historic Hamm Building. Audiences will divide into smaller groups for an immersive experience of dance and music at key locations in downtown Saint Paul. The audience will be moving around a great deal and sometimes standing so consider wearing comfortable shoes and clothing and not carrying large bags. The show is wheelchair accessible and appropriate for all ages.

For someone who’s on deadline to launch a new production by August 25, Chvala looks like he has all the time in the world, relaxed and still, ironic for a man known for perpetual motion on stage. And can Chvala move! He has done it all: jazz, ballet, tango, tap, folk, . . . you name it! Ultimately, percussive dance won his heart; but unwilling to settle on any one form–no, not simply tap; not just clogging–he draws from them all then adds his own percussive twists, letting loose his creative inventions.

Chvala admits to having lived a charmed life, able to spend much of it creating his own internal and external worlds since childhood. He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, enjoying languid summers at a cabin by the lake, immersed in nature and his own wild imagination. He first became involved in theatre as a teenager, thrilled to now make believe to live audiences. Getting hooked on musical theatre as a child started him down the path to dance, which he pursued more seriously after moving to New York.

Chvala’s journey has led him to travel widely and even sometimes stay for longer spells. He is a Midwesterner who became a New Yorker (seven years) who then lived and taught dance in Gothenburg, Sweden (two years). Living overseas expanded his worldview and further deepened his artistic development. What finally drew him back full circle to the Midwest are close family ties which ground him. Despite his need for solitude to create, Chvala is, at heart, a connector, which makes it unsurprising that he had created Flying Foot Forum in 1991, a means for artists to share and invent together.

Chvala also feels most grounded when dancing, literally connecting with the earth. While he may have tendrils into other worlds, each of them having their own appeal, this is the world that feels the most immediate. As Chvala continues to uncompromisingly create the life that he wants to live and to gift–and as he sits in the radiant sunlight in the morning–he brings to mind these final lines from poet Mark Doty’s “Long Point Light”:

Here is the world you asked for,
gorgeous and opportune,

here is nine o’clock, harbor-wide,
and a glinting code: promise and warning.
The morning’s the size of heaven.

What will you do with it?

Time Travel with Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum

Flying Foot Forum

Want to travel through Saint Paul’s past, present and future without strapping into a time machine or wrinkling through a tesseract? Then get ready to come on over to Park Square Theatre to learn how to do just that, but on your own power.

From August 25 to September 11, Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum will perform their time-bending new production, Passing Through Pig’s Eye, which they describe as “a roving performance of wildly entertaining and eclectic dance, music and comedy” for all ages. Audience groups will be led to six different locations throughout downtown Saint Paul “where performances happen and history is revealed in intriguing, percussive ways.”

Flying Foot Forum founder Chvala himself is a history buff who holds a philosophical outlook on time. “Everything we do counts. Everything we do changes history,” he says, noting how in just a split second you may or may not be hit by a passing car depending on what you happened to be doing.

“We are all just passing through this world, with limited time,” he adds. “All we can do is appreciate the time that we have.”

With the time that he’s had, Chvala created Flying Foot Forum in 1991 as a unique percussive dance company. The dancers make percussive music with their bodies while performing step dance, tap, clogging, hambone or any rhythmic manner of movement; with their voices while reciting verse, singing or noise making; or in relation to the works of musicians and instrumentalists. In Passing Through Pig’s Eye, the Forum will also feature some less percussive contemporary dances as contrast.

Joining Chvala in Passing Through Pig’s Eye will be some of the most amazing dancers, singers, musicians and actors in the Twin Cities: Rush Benson, Jeremy Bensussan, Ayana Dubose, Brian Evans, Karla Grotting, Galen Higgins, Betsy Hutsing, Scott Keever, Adam Kiesling, Michelle Lemon, Natalie Nowytski, Peter O’Gorman, Charles Robison, Colleen Somerville-Leeman, Molly Stoltz and Darrius Strong.

Come to enjoy the time of your life! And we’ll even promise you a safe return to 2016.

Flying Foot Forum II

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