Joe Chvala's Flying Foot Forum does for percussive dance forms what Pablo Picasso does for women: shuffles and reassembles them into startling new configurations. In Flying Feats, artistic director Chvala and longtime company member Karla Grotting work their choreographic alchemy on the base metal of rhythmic dance.
Grotting's "All of One Size" sets jazz tap against the plaintive sounds of bluegrass gospel music ("Six pieces of earth will make us all of one size," cautions one lyric). Sometimes performers Grotting, Chvala, Jan Campbell, and Joe Spencer embody the hardscrabble fatalism reminiscent of Walker Evans's Depression photos. Determined folk for whom life is tough with rare moments of grace, they reach out to one another, or up to heaven, with poignant formality. Occasionally they get down and raise the proverbial barn roof, rambunctiously kicking up well-worn heels in funky syncopations.
Similar in tone but different in style, Chvala's sextet "Filarfolket" animates the workaday lives of a rural, agrarian community through an eclectic meld of Scandinavian and Eastern European folk dancing, with a dash of American ham-boning thrown in. To the alternately lively and haunting music of the folk-based Swedish band Filarfolket, dancers smoothly ride the intricate patter of their feet (and the sober patterns of their lives) like disciplined equestrians--or they hunker down and dig into the earth. In this moving tribute to communal rituals, Grotting and Chvala perform with a spare, plainspoken eloquence that about breaks your heart.
These two versatile veterans show a more urban élan in "Trines," a collaboration between Chvala, Grotting, and composer Peter O'Gorman. Grotting and Chvala tap in sinuous counterpoint to O'Gorman's eerie soundscape, performed by him on a series of quirky, custom-made metal instruments. In a kind of sonic punning, the crisp sound of metal taps on the wooden floor becomes a play on the more resonant timbre of wooden sticks striking and caressing metal. Throughout, the performers echo and embroider one another's moves with cunning finesse--the feline equivalent of those testosterone-laden Tap Dogs.