Sinuous, serpentine, supple and sexy, Karine Plantadit seems like putty in the hands of choreographer Twyla Tharp, whose Come Fly Away has mostly — and deservedly — earned plaudits on Broadway. While not the first Tharp piece inspired by songs sung by Frank Sinatra (the musical leaves the impression that the crooner wrote the songs, which he didn’t), it’s the choreographer’s most comprehensive salute yet; the concept tracks four couples looking for, finding, losing and regaining love in granite-and-steel New York. There’s a Sinatra vocal for all those romantic phases; what Tharp supplies is the physical exploration, manifestation and interpretation of each one.
Critics of both the dance and the theater variety have made much of the dazzling professional pedigrees of Matthew Dibble, Holley Farmer, Laura Mead, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, Rika Okamoto, Plantadit, Keith Roberts and John Selya, the eight principals who dance the four couples in Come Fly Away. Yet even in such company, Plantadit’s qualities are well-nigh ineffable: an exotic alchemy of physical beauty, stamina and sheer terpsichorean will; a mile-wide smile; a burning libido quenched by love and vigor; a wicked temper; a sizzling fearlessness that floats perfectly beside Tharp’s revision of the laws of gravity.
According to her bio, Plantadit began dancing at age 3, back in her native Cameroon. By 19, she was a soloist with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She debuted on Broadway in The Lion King, then appeared in Saturday Night Fever, then became part of Movin’ Out, through which Tharp, who had previously enjoyed only moderate success on the Great White Way, achieved a new level of artistic distinction. Unlike many dancers, Plantadit seems to be planning for the future, too, developing an acting career that has culminated — thus far — in playing Josephine Baker opposite Salma Hayek in the film Frida. Plantadit also operates is terrific website for actors called Nail Your Auditions.
Two years ago, Plantadit was among a modest group of dancers that approached Tharp about devising a new project. The choreographer is said to have laid out ground rules in that there were no ground rules: no agenda, no grand plans, just forging the work for its own sake, and to let the content dictate the project’s eventual form.
That Come Fly Away resulted from such faith in the artistically organic testifies to Plantadit’s instincts.
Come Fly Away performs Mondays through Saturdays at 8pm, with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm, at the Marriott Marquis Theatre (1535 Broadway). For tickets, call 212-307-4100 or click here.
And now, 5 questions Karine Plantadit has never been asked — and a bonus question:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“What was it specifically about the Ailey Company that you saw and loved enough to make you decide to come to America at 17?”
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Did you ever regret being a dancer?”
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Was Salma Hayek a good kisser?”
4) You were among three dancers who say you just wanted to dance for Twyla Tharp — there was no agenda or goal associated with the effort that became Come Fly Away. What, then, was the “a-ha” moment when you personally knew there was a theater piece here? How did this process differ from Movin’ Out? Was it more freeing? Less secure?
The “a-ha” moment was the awareness of a unique accumulation of pure joy as we were working hard and sweating bullets in the studio. We would come out of rehearsals at Twyla’s studio enchanted and inspired every single day looking forward to the next day. There was so much laughter during rehearsals, a true sense of sharing and seeing how much magic we could create in our two to three hours together. This was during the time when recession and pessimism was really rampant in New York City, and here we were, engaging in an activity which brought smiles, hope and unity.
Also, in his inaugural address, President Obama used an expression: “…we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” Well, “Pick Yourself Up” is one of the songs we use in the show — I had an intuitive feeling this project was absolutely in rhythm with America and what Americans will want to experience with us.
When I joined Movin’ Out, it was already a workshop and the core dancers were in place. With Come Fly Away, I was part of the core dancer group, which gave me the opportunity to be closer to the heartbeat of the piece. It is more freeing because I feel closer to Twyla and the other co-creators.
5) You run a great website, www.nailyourauditions.com. Many actors and coaches give advice to auditioners, yet it seems as if the same errors are always being made over and over. Why don’t actors “get it”? How do you make them listen to great advice?
Human beings often make the same mistakes until they evolve… I wish to be part of the chain who continues to inspire artists to own how fabulous they are and how noble their mission as artist really is through my seminars and workshops in schools and universities.
I make them listen by showing, by example, what it looks like to stay full of integrity “while in the midst of fire,” and by sharing tools they can practice and own for themselves.
6) Name two aspects of Twyla Tharp — one professional, one personal — she really, really doesn’t want anyone to know. (We know she’s brilliant, so we’re disqualifying that!)
Twyla has a humongous sense of humor, one which will make your liver laugh out loud!