Five Cool Moves

Come Fly Away interprets Frank Sinatra’s songs with physical movement. Here are a couple of the moves to look for.

Come Fly Away presents 80 intense minutes of dance — no intermission, no dialogue, an onstage big band, Sinatra’s recorded voice sounding as if it’s in the auditorium right now, more than a dozen dancers cavorting around a nightclub. As their bodies careen across the floor, here are some dance moves to watch for.

1. Lift her, drop her, trample her: That’s how you might interpret the male dancer’s brutality while Sinatra is singing “That’s Life.” But you’d be wrong. “That pas de deux is interpreted that way a lot, much to the chagrin of the creator,” says John Selya, who has spent a dozen years dancing for choreographer Twyla Tharp. “Instead, it’s making a statement about women’s — and men’s — ability to counter each other. Twyla is adamant about that. We call these dances ‘isometric,’ because they’re based on the resistance of one dancer to the other. There are no submissive characters in her choreography.”

After Selya, dancing the role of Sid, lures his fictional partner, Babe, with one arm and she straddles him, they almost kiss and thrust their heads away, twice. Matching the lyrics of “That’s Life” — all about being flattened by adversity and picking yourself up to fight on — Babe threatens to slap him, strides off, then suddenly turns and sprints at Sid, leaping feet-first into his surprised arms. He flings her to the floor, nearly stepping on her as he struts away. But soon she’s back on her feet, glaring, and they have to be separated. It’s a duet with mutual resistance.

2. Masthead pose turns into a death-drag: Tharp is famous for spread-eagle lifts, with the woman striking a Titanic pose, followed by sudden, intricate drops that elicit audience gasps. In “My Way,” one woman falls backward into her partner’s arms, drags her feet on the floor and rises into a flowing dance.

3. Pantomimed domestic duties: The man surrenders to her completely in “Body and Soul,” but the woman just turns her back on him. Soon, Tharp’s choreography goes literal for a moment, with the men washing dishes and burping babies.

4. Swagger, scissor-kicks, baseball-slides and midair layouts: During the challenge-dance in “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” the men compete as they “take the town and turn it upside down.” They leap off chairs, pirouette and enter the spotlight backwards with high-stepping kicks. “That’s just guys burning off a lot of steam,” Selya says. “Up to that point, they’ve all been with their respective partners. So it’s a bachelor party of sorts, a last hurrah. It’s just infectious rowdiness.”

5. Hop-hop-skip, wave arms and thrust hips ... in unison: In “Fly Me to the Moon,” two dancers enact falling in love. “Fred and Ginger did that a lot,” says Selya. “It’s about the couple imagining who they are — and could be — while doing the same steps in the same way.”

Soon the partners are holding hands, arching their backs and letting their free arms trace arcs slowly through the air, creating a lovely moment that matches Sinatra’s lyrics: “Fill my heart with song/ And let me sing forevermore./ You are all I long for,/ All I worship and adore.”

Since it closed on Broadway a year ago, Come Fly Away has lost several songs, an onstage female vocalist and half an hour. “It’s a more streamlined show,” Selya says, “and more dance-driven.” It certainly offers some memorable dancing snapshots.

Come Fly Away • Thurs, Nov. 17, at 7:30 pm; Fri, Nov. 18, at 8 pm; Sat, Nov. 19, at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sun, Nov. 20, at 1 pm and 6:30 pm • $37-$74 • INB Center • 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. • • (800) 325-SEAT

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Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.