Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum.
My first impression of Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum, some two or three years ago at its home in Minneapolis, was of an exciting, sometimes irreverent, sometimes folksy group of dancers exploring percussion in lively and innovative ways. "Berserks," in particular, left a lasting impression. as much for its bone-jarring noise and conspicuously chic all-black costumes as for its relentless high energy and all-encompassing explosiveness.
Rooted in the mythology of a Nordic warrior cult whose activities purportedly gave rise to the expression "running berserk," "Berserks" is part of an evening-length work, Mjollnir (The Hammer of Thor) (1995) and is choreographed by Chvala in collaboration with the percussionist group Savage Aural Hotbed. Four dancers wearing black raincoats and pants, white shirts, black ties, and tap shoes, shout and pound the floor, teeth bared, eyes staring. Using sticks, they go through the motions of a martia arts--like exercise that is not unlike the Brazilian maculele stick dance. At the end, coatless, faces smudged with black greasepaint, fingers curled, the dancers advance on the audience like a phalanx of ghouls from Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
Unfortunately for me, the thrill was gone at DTW, where the troupe performed as part of the Out-of-Towners series. This second time around, the movement seemed to lack momentum, the dancers' tapping sounds flat and toneless, and the percussionists appeared distant and detached from all the ordered chaos that surrounded them.
It didn't help that "Berserks" was preceded by Chvala's All Creatures Now Are Merry-Minded. Feathers, sequins, candles, bells, and sashed kimonos top tap shoes. By design or by accident, one dancer's chair broke; it was replaced by a bench, making for some humorous moments when all the dancers had to carry or drag their seats around the stage. A highlight of Creatures was a duel--in the ubiquitous tap shoes adorned with gigantic bows. The dancing was irrelevant.
The program opened with three more traditional tap dances, Chvala's A Cappella and Soft Shoes and Clayton Schanilec's A Hundred Dead Dollars. Awkwardly styled arms, contemporary pretensions, and, oddly, a moment of sweet romanticism were uneasily constructed and can best be described as inoffensive.
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|Title Annotation:||DTW's Bessie Schoenberg Theater, New York, New York|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1995|
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