Gregory Hines once said that Savion Glover was the greatest tap dancer who’s ever lived. That may have simply been the highest accolade a mentor could possibly give his protege, but after Friday night’s show, I’m convinced Hines was right. Tony Award winner Savion Glover graced the main stage of the Carmel Palladium before a sold-out audience on Friday, April 1st, and he was definitely a sight to behold.
SoLo in TiME is a singular presentation of Glover’s most recent work, incorporating the soft brilliance of latin jazz with the visceral percussive movements of African-American dance culture. He kicked off the show with a solo number that introduced fresh faces (both young and old) to what exactly makes this hoofer phenom the headliner he is today. Then, one by one, Glover was joined on stage by musicians whose skill and expressiveness mirrored his own in the form of Spanish guitar, bass and percussion.
By the time Glover finished his fourth number, it occurred to me why I’ve rarely seen an overweight tap dancer. His long black T-shirt was soaked with sweat and his unbuttoned button down had stains under the arms the size of saucers. There's no doubt this lanky virtuoso with the bohemian beard and natty dreds doesn’t have to worry about burning off what he eats.
At the start of the evening, a few nearby audience members complained that they couldn’t see Glover’s feet thanks to the raised platform on stage. I imagine that's frustrating at first, but I believe that enjoying the overall effect of his performance lies within observing how he moves his entire body, not just his feet. For instance, I was captivated simultaneously by the mannequin-like position of his hands, the rigidity of his upper torso, the subtle, lithe motion of his knees in conjunction with his hips. It's never grandiose or over-the-top. Just enough to let his feet do the talking. And when taken in its entirety, his body becomes one beautifully powered machine transformed to create one movement: the tap.
Case in point: another memorable number showed off Glover’s ability to draw you in by the power of understatement. In this piece (which unfortunately I don’t know the name), Carmen Estevez’s singing takes the lead and Glover's taps are soft, subtle and smooth. After 5 or 6 numbers where the instrumentation and taps play back and forth in the audio spotlight, the quiet tones of this dance fill the hall with a hushed awe, where people fear applauding out of worry that they’ll miss hearing something more incredible than what they just heard a few seconds before.
Dance has always been my first love. Even though there was little hope of turning it into a full-time career, I've always viewed it as the single greatest artistic expression a human being can ever master. And in the world of dance, music and movement share a symbiotic relationship like no other. But tap is music.
Specifically, tap is the jazz music of dance. Whereas most dance styles use music to express the story held within the notes, tap tells a story while creating its own notes. And like jazz, tap relies on broken rhythms, syncopated phrasing and improvised solos to drive its own unique character from piece to piece.
Similarly, Glover has used his own unique character to leave his stamp on the dance world. Without his determination to see that tap is not relegated to the status of historical footnote, we wouldn’t have seen the popularity of dance troupes like Stomp and Tap Dogs thrive throughout the late '90s and early '00s. Some go so far as to credit Glover with “saving” tap from obscurity.
My favorite number of the evening actually served as the encore. After receiving one of many standing ovations, Glover and Marshall Davis Jr. (the only other hoofer on this "SoLo" tour) fell into a friendly competition of who’s da man where each dancer played every card from his personal deck of tricks. I spied a little Howard “Sandman” Sims, Harold & Fayard (aka The Nicholas Bros.), Jimmy Slyde, Sammy Davis Jr., and, of course, Gregory Hines mixed all up in that round of sound. I think this was also my favorite part of the show because Glover had the biggest smile on his face and laughed after almost every solo.
Even though the Palladium has the odd ability to feel both cavernous and intimate at the same time, Glover made sure to connect with his audience whenever he could. A simple aside with a child or two in the front row was followed by a quick shout-out to the dedicated crowd sitting in the obstructed-view balconies. He happily introduces us to his partners-in-crime one minute, then asks us if they’re any Butler Bulldog fans in the house. (And yes, there were plenty.)
At the end of the night, I decided to hang around the “stage door” for a chance to snag an autograph and smile from the man of the hour. Thankfully, the wait didn’t last too long. Glover and company fielded about 40 minutes of interviews from local news outlets before stepping out to meet some of the enthusiastic fans who couldn’t bring themselves to leave just yet. Quite a few of the admirers were little ones waiting in their tap shoes. Some even kept us entertained while we waited, showing off what they learned that week in class. Glover happily joined the little ones for pictures and signed autographs.
Yours truly managed to grab a quick minute with him as well. He quickly signed my playbill and fielded a question about the idea behind “improvography.’ If it sounds a like a mix of improvisation and choreography, that's because it is. But I was curious as how do you credit original improv to tap legends Hines and Slyde in a new dance production. Glover explained how Greg and Jimmy taught him how improvography creates a one-of-a-kind performance in every show, guaranteeing the dance always stay fresh and energetic.
The improvography technique sounds like everything I've come to know and respect about the world of dance. Combining years of experience with raw talent to create a truly dynamic performance that's unique to every audience, well, that's art in a nutshell. I may have embarrassed him when I shook Glover's hand and said that he was truly an inspiration, but I meant every word. It must be difficult to think of yourself as a living legend at the age of 37, but he is nothing less. I recommend SoLo in TiME or any other performance by Mr. Glover and company to anyone with even the slightest appreciation for dance. You will not regret the experience and you may be inspired to create a little art of your own.