Savion Glover taps into town Monday
Vail, CO, Colorado
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes tap dance as a “style of dance in which a dancer wearing shoes fitted with heel and toe taps sounds out audible beats by rhythmically striking the floor or any other hard surface.”
Savion Glover is much more than a dancer who “taps out audible beats by rhythmically striking the floor.” Glover is an instrument. His body is an infinite conduit for every possible rhythm ” be it the rustling of leaves, the flap, flap of a flat tire, the persistent rumbling of a freight train or even the jazz-like honking of New York City taxis. Glover hears things differently than you and I. And the interpretation of what he hears and feels is unforgettable. He’s simply that good.
As a Tony award-winning choreographer, behind the Broadway show, “Bring In da Noise, Bring in da Funk,” Glover made his own Broadway debut at the tender age of 10, when he starred in “The Tap Dance Kid.” The following year he made his film debut with his mentor, Gregory Hines, and Sammy Davis, in “Tap.” Two years later, he received a Tony nomination for “Jelly’s Last Jam,” where, once more, he played opposite the legendary Hines.
Now, at 33, Glover, is himself a legend. Joan Acocella, The New Yorker’s dance critic, described her experience of watching Glover perform as “the finest tap dancing I have ever seen.” She added, “Most living tap dancers probably agree that no one has ever achieved greater virtuosity than Glover.”
“It’s all improvisation,” says Glover, matter-of-factly. ” I have a whole vocabulary that I can work from. And from there, my dancers and I try to establish a communication and dialogue ” and we see where it goes.
“Basically, my style of tap-dancing, hoofing, is like a musician. We approach it like a musician approaches a live set. If they don’t have sheet music in front of them, they’re going to play what they feel at the time. And that’s what we do as tap dancers. We play it as we feel it ” at the time.”
A fusion of African tribal dances, Scottish and Irish jigs and English clogging, tap dancing as we know it didn’t flourish until the 1920s, when “taps” were nailed or screwed into the toes and heels of shoes. Tap was considered to be an electrifying art form and, through the decades, the dancers continually molded and shaped it. They also influenced the evolution of American music; drummers especially drew inspiration from the dancers’ syncopated patterns and innovations.
And that brings us back to Glover, who has dedicated his life to helping people recognize that tap is essentially music. His troupe, no matter how many, are like a group of instruments.
“Our aim is to get the audience to understand our approach,” explains Glover. “So you may see me with one or two dancers in the show, rather than a group of seven or 10 dancers. It’s just like a musician who adds another instrument. That’s the idea of having only one or two dancers along side of me like my ‘cats’ Marshall Davis, Jr. and Mourice Chestnut will be with me in Vail.”
Glover graduated from New Jersey’s Newark Arts High School where he studied every dance form, including jazz and ballet. But, his first love was always tap. As he told Debra Craine, of The London Times recently, “Not the ‘show business’ stuff like ‘Tap Dogs’ and ‘Riverdance’ that young tap dancers are seeing, but rather the pure art form of tap.”
“These shows, ” continued Glover, “are not tap dancing. They may be wearing tap shoes, but once you start to add other elements on to tap, once you start doing gymnastics with tap shoes, that’s not tap dancing any more.”
The form that inspired Glover came from legends ” the greats like George Hillman, Lon Cheney (not the actor), Dianne Walker and, of course, Gregory Hines.
“Gregory Hines was everything to me: a mentor, a teacher, a brother, a friend. He was a really great man, aside from the stage. He was a real cool dude,” says Glover. “I’ll miss him as long as I’m here. I miss all of those cats who had an impact on my learning and my life. But his death was more shocking.”
Glover is so relaxed, so tranquil as he dances, that it’s hard to believe that he is emoting so much energy. It’s as though he’s in his own space. And that’s exactly the beauty of watching him. Somehow, he takes you with him. He has that power.
“It’s not really music that I dance to,” confesses Glover, “it’s more the vibrations and sounds. I let that become the music. I can be thinking about anything at any time. I’m probably thinking about the Nicks, or playing basketball or something like that.”
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