The Cowles Center continued its winter season with "The Percussion Project, An Evening of Percussive Dance and Percussion" created by Karla Grotting, Peter O'Gorman and Joe Chvala of Flying Foot Forum.
Chvala, founder of the Twin Cities-based company, has a dance work made for radio in "I Saw Esau," a clever bit of singsong storytelling, based on a children's rhyme and grounded in the percussive footwork for which the group is nationally known.
Close your eyes and be delighted by the rat-a-tat-tat of the trio's playful reporting on Esau's stolen kiss from a girl named Kate. Chvala, Grotting and O'Gorman delivered the goods with perfect patter.
Eyes open, the audience was enchanted by a clever bit of staging: The ensemble brightened their footwork with the glow of small flashlights. The piece was part ghoulish choir singers, part name game, total performance pleasure.
Composer Mary Ellen Childs contributed "Sight of Hand," featuring the same trio riffing on baseball signals and the musicality of zippers. Who knew the tonal disparity between a slender side pocket zipper and its larger, longer front closure cousin? It was a clever conceit that benefited from the spare staging. Wu Chen Khoo's bright white light plot and Cody Anderson's infallible sound design enhanced this and every piece.
Other highlights on the program included the tap, step dance and hambone kinetics of company members Rush Benson, Jeremy Bensussan and Charles Robison, and the sonic solo science project "Seven Objects" created and performed by O'Gorman on an odd operating table of a set.
"Trines" brought sculptural musical triangles into play. Lit so they fairly glowed, the instruments were swung like ritual incense burners, while O'Gorman plucked at a souped-up drum set. For a moment, the stage felt like a smoky West Village jazz bar.
O'Gorman opened the second part of the program with two experimental works that mesmerized with their originality. Especially impressive was "Mouthing Off," a beatbox improvisation.
Grotting, a founding Flying Foot Forum member, closed the show with a piece that melded elements of the Bharatanatyam tradition with modern dance technique. Three charming, animated women (Leila Awadallah, Erinn Liebhard and Emma Marlar) spun and hugged and leapt in work that celebrated their self-confidence while also teasing the men (Benson, Bensussan and Malcolm Peterson) who ran wildly by, attempting interaction. The dancers, and the dance, were a joy to behold.
Amy Lamphere is a Minneapolis writer.