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Upcoming Events By Flying Foot Forum

Flying Foot Forum’s French Twist
(Photo by V. Paul Virtuccio)

The irrepressible percussive dance troupe, Flying Foot Forum, graces Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage in two ways this summer:

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, French Twist, a hit show previously performed in 2008 at the Guthrie, returns as a new production at Park Square from June 22 to July 15.

There will also be two Works in Progress nights, which are pay-what-you-can — Mondays, July 2 and 9, 7:30 pm — for audiences to view company members’ works in progress, including Flying Foot Forum’s own film project, Split Rock Shuffle.

Created as an incubator for percussive dance, Flying Foot Forum was founded by Joe Chvala, which only seems apt considering that his surname represents “understanding, imagination, cooperation, artistic talent, tact and patience.”* Joe still reacts with delighted amazement at the Forum’s longevity, though fans are decidedly less surprised.

Come to the cabaret of French Twist
(Photo by V. Paul Virtuccio)

French Twist is the right show to do to celebrate our 25th year because it represents so much of what we do,” Joe said. “It’s a showcase of the fun, crazy, comic and sentimental things that we do and offers a comprehensive picture of certain aspects of our work.”

The feel of the production is much influenced by Joe’s love of An American in Paris, the 1951 movie starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, which was the first musical he’d ever seen on screen at the tender age of nine.

“One summer, my parents–both teachers–got a grant to study in Ohio. They’d simply drop my seven-year-old sister and I off at the movie theater and go off to do what they had to do,” Joe recalled. “I loved the idealized picture of France–the rosy aspects of Parisian France–that the movie presented. There were so many different artists in the popular French culture of that period, and we were able to incorporate their influences through the cabaret format of our show. For instance, we give a nod to legendary actress and dancer Loie Fuller, who originated the Serpentine Dance, in one of our own dance numbers when the dancer’s long swirling fabric, with the use of colored stage lighting, dramatically unfurls into an impressionistic Paris sky.”

Although French Twist had been staged in the past, returning to it was like creating a new production. With new cast members joining some of the original ones, dances were altered to fit their personalities as well. The open structure of a cabaret additionally allowed for the reimagining of sets, scenes, dances and costumes.

A scene from Split Rock Shuffle
(Photo by Steve Campbell)

True to the ever-evolving spirit of Flying Foot Forum is also its current jump into filmmaking. You can sample their first effort during those two Monday evenings of works in progress, with a premiere of the latest cut of Split Rock Shuffle, which is somewhat of an homage to Minnesota.

“I love the magic of seeing movies and wanted to be involved in that,” said Joe. “In theatre, you do the show, and it’s over. The experience of each performance can’t be replicated, and recordings can’t capture the overall magic of them. With film, you can go back to watch or share it, plus reach a larger audience, now or even ten years later.”

La Cuisine in Split Rock Shuffle
(Photo by Steve Campbell)

But if you haven’t already experienced Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum, be sure to do so now and not ten years from now! Innovative zaniness, fast-flying footwork, verbal calisthenics, side-splitting humor and breathtaking gorgeousness: that’s what to expect to top off your summer day.

Tickets and information about French Twist here.

* definition from www.meaningslike.com

Flying Foot Forum celebrates an American’s View of Paris

PARK SQUARE PRESENTS FRENCH TWIST
Flying Foot Forum’s 25th Anniversary production celebrates
an American’s view of Paris from the Can-Can to Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron

Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage is once again the home to Flying Foot Forum’s signature storytelling with FRENCH TWIST, a cabaret of gorgeous music, theatrical storytelling and percussive dance set in a Paris Nightclub that runs from June 22 to July 15, 2018. This 25th anniversary production starts with the premise of the company’s original production which premiered at The Guthrie in 2008, but now includes new characters, melodic new songs and inventive dances. Director/choreographer Joe Chvala fuses vaudeville, tap, cabaret, follies, opera, and percussive art forms to evoke American’s wildest imaginings of life in the City of Light.

The piece opens with “All Creatures Are Now Merry-Minded,” a riotous medley of caricatures of familiar characters from a myriad of operas. With boundless energy, the company dances its way through an amazing variety of classical music, including a Bach fugue danced on and off chairs. Act II introduces a medium who conjures up the spirits of bygone Paris, from the jazz artists of the 1920’s American expat scene to Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier. “It’s eclectic, fun, wild, and of course there’s the Can-Can,” says founding Artistic Director Joe Chvala. “Some of us oldsters in the company have been doing the Can-Can for decades, so we have to remember to give the young dancers the truly gymnastic moves and try not to kill ourselves,” he laughs.

One of the new numbers depicts Loie Fuller, considered by many to be the godmother of modern dance, even before Isadora Duncan. Loie was an American actress who became a sensation at the Exposition Universelle with her Serpentine Dance, using long flowing fabric and colored stage lights. In Joe Chvala’s talented hands, her swathes of fabric suddenly turn into the sky above the city and the setting for a great tap number in the spirit of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron from the 1950s movie AMERICAN IN PARIS. There will even be a little Flamenco woven into the evening courtesy of Molly Kay Stoltz of Zorongo Flamenco.

“This show is perfect for the Boss Stage,” says Chvala. “It transforms beautifully into an intimate nightclub setting, as we learned with PASSING THROUGH PIG’S EYE last summer. More than that, the lobby, its proximity to the Dakota’s Vieux-Carrė jazz club and the whole ambiance of the Historic Hamm Building put you in the right mood for the atmosphere we’re creating.”

The fact that Flying Foot Forum is celebrating 25 years comes almost as a surprise to its founder. “What became a company started first as a big performance, and then we just kept going,” Chvala says. “Once we established ourselves as a company, I remember going to the 20th anniversary concert of an African Dance company and thinking ‘I wonder if we’ll ever make it 20 years.’ It’s truly wonderful that three of our original dancers and musical collaborators like rhythm-wizard Peter O’Gorman are still creating with us. Each generation of new dancers, like the amazing Brandon Jackson who plays La Bijoux in French Twist – keep adding to our aesthetic as they bring their unique energies to the process.”

Flying Foot Forum’s unique style of percussive dance continues to ripple out through choreographers and companies in Minnesota and beyond. “Over the years, we’ve worked with so many great dancers and choreographers like Brian Sostek and Tamara Kangas Erickson,” confirms Chvala. “Sometimes I see a show and think ‘I wonder if that idea was inspired by something we did?’ After 25 years, we are still finding new ways to explore our art form. It’s been a tremendous gift to have this crazy idea take off.”

***

Celebrate 25 years of Flying Foot Forum with their new production of FRENCH TWIST, featuring the fabulously furious feet of founding members Jan Campbell, Joe Chvala, Karla Grotting and veterans Jeremy Bensussan, Peter O’Gorman and Charles Robison are joined by Brandon Jackson, Falicia Cunningham, Molly Kay Stoltz, Kaleena Miller and Michael Hasenmueller.

The creative team for the production includes Cynthia Forsgren (Costume Designer), Robin McIntyre (Scenic Designer) and Eric Jensen (Music Director)

Flying Foot Forum’s FRENCH TWIST Performance Schedule: Previews begin Friday, June 22, and continue through Thursday, June 28. June 29 is Opening Night, and the run continues through July 15. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. except for Saturday and Sunday matinees, which begin at 2 p.m. All performances are on Park Square’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage in Saint Paul’s historic Hamm Building, 408 St. Peter Street.

There will also be two nights of works in progress created by Joe Chvala and company members including a work in progress premiere of a Flying Foot Forum film project Mondays, July 2 and 9.

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.

Personal Highlights of the Past Season

The Diary of Anne Frank at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018 - Actors playing Anne Frank & Father

It has been 75 years since Anne Frank was given a diary by her father. The Diary of Anne Frank remains a perennial favorite of school groups. This coming season, limited evening performances will also be available. (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Always, the Education Program

Park Square takes great pride in its Education Program for good reasons. It’s a powerfully transformative program, not just for its effect on its young audiences but also as an inspiration within our own organization. Mindfully created and led by the incomparable Mary Finnerty since 1994, the Education Program has often served as first exposure of professional theatre to young audiences. But you can see how it’s much more than that in such defining moments as when the lightbulb of understanding lit up for a student while Sulia Rose Altenberg, who played Anne Frank, answered his question as to why the Jews didn’t simply pretend to be Christians or the teacher of a Somali group explained that they came to be exposed to a broader community. Our Education Program provides a safe venue for our young patrons to grapple with self-discovery, self-definition and social interconnectedness. It has also been a catalyst for Park Square to consider those very same issues within its own walls. Impactful is only one adjective that best describes “The Program That Mary Built” (see the August 16, 2016, blog post).

A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018

A Raisin in the Sun knocked our socks off and will be back for another season by popular demand. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Staying In the Thick of It

Park Square Theatre, with its long-held reputation as a white mainstream institution, has had to do much organizational soul-searching to embrace change. Is having to grapple with equity, diversity and inclusion a long and messy process? Does building trust feel hard-won or, more aptly, simply hard? Do they sometimes get things wrong (and, of course, right)? Have they kept forging ahead? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Mu Performing Arts co-produced Flower Drum Song with Park Square Theatre and returns with another production in the upcoming season.

The Independents

Collaborations with smaller independent companies through its co-production of Flower Drum Song with Mu Performing Arts and productions by its Theatres in Residence–Sandbox Theatre, Theatre Pro Rata and Girl Friday Productions–broadened the season’s scope. I loved the “one-stop shop” to be able to try out new companies and see what they’re all about. Look forward to French Twist by Flying Foot Forum and the return of Mu Performing Arts for A Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity in our upcoming season.

H. Adam Harris and Kathryn Fumie in this past season’s The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence

Having been one of the volunteer script readers to consider this complex, time-jumping, contemporary play for production, it was exciting to see it finally come to fruition on stage. The thumbs up on the script was actually a tough call, surmising its challenge for audiences to grasp–both its pro and con. The play really made me think about the state of human relationships in our techno-world. Did it do the same for you? It also had one of the most beautiful sets ever by Set Designer Lance Brockman and moving performances by actors Kathryn Fumie, Adam Whisner and H. Adam Harris in roles that let their own true souls shine through their fictional facades. Hope you were there! Note: Contact John White, Literary Management Volunteer (white@Parksquaretheatre.org), to discuss your interest to become a volunteer script reader.

Jamil Jude with Hope Cervantes, who was in this past season’s The House on Mango Street
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Jamil Jude, Park Square’s former Artistic Programming Associate

When Jamil had just been on board for several months, someone asked me, “Do you even know what he does here?” Guess what a young man with an expansive heart and the passion to build bridges and break down walls has done within his relatively short time in the Twin Cities community? Break a leg at your new gig in Atlanta! (Refer to past blogs “Jamil Jude, Artist Plus,” “What’s That Got to Do With Jamil Jude?” and “Jamil Jude, We’ll Miss You.”)

The Conversations That Became Real

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

In an industry that endlessly tries to grab a piece of you, remaining guarded is an act of self-care and self-preservation. You’re constantly navigating the minefields of others’ self-interests and being put in compromising situations. Who do you want to be in those circumstances? Who must you become? Who are you really? Whenever you get a glimpse into a theatre professional’s inner humanity, it’s a golden moment for sure! Theatre professionals rock!

Vincent HannamMy Fellow Bloggers

Getting Eric “Pogi” Sumangil on the team for this past season and blogging for another year with the wholehearted Vincent Hannam were awesome, to say the least. As the only blogger without a theatre background and career, following these two’s works online and onstage served as terrific learning tools. Each of us wrote around complex schedules due to multiple gigs and personal responsibilities. Thanks for being there!

 

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