Heels and Toes

Tap virtuoso honors, probes, and redefines the form

Savion Glover's thrilling new show is called Visions of a Bible. Not the Bible, a bible. Although Lori Ann Hunter's rich gospel voice hymns God and Jesus, Glover's dancing also honors the living and departed saints of tap—Saint Steve, Saint Honi, Saint Gregory, and their kin—paying homage not just by evoking them, but by teasing their steps into higher speeds, denser textures, and surprising variations.

The performance is compact—an intermissionless hour and 10 minutes of music and dancing—and simply presented. Glover begins on his ingeniously mic'd platform, pattering his feet meditatively. He's wearing cream-colored pants, a white singlet, a necklace, and a loose, unbuttoned blue shirt. Beside the platform stands Hunter, dressed less casually in a ruffled, sparsely sequined pink gown. In the first three numbers, before his four-man band, the Otherz, enters, Glover plays with the rhythms of Hunter's singing—weaving complex patterns around it, increasing the volume and intensity of his dancing as her voice swells from pensiveness into fervor. Keeping his eyes on her for the most part, he underlines certain words in the heart-singeing "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." "Why?" she repeats passionately, and he slams his heel down on each word. "Because," she says, and he slaps one foot down in emphasis.

When Hunter embarks on "Peace Be Still," with its commanding stopped rhythms, Glover faces us and sets up a ground bass to enliven the pauses and deepen the song's longer phrases. Over and over, his 16-count meld of stamps, slaps, and a long, filigreed shuffle carry Hunter's warm urgency along.

Holy tap whiz
photo: Richard Termine
Holy tap whiz

Details

Savion Glover
Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue
212-242-0800
Through January 15

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The fundamentals of tap are relatively few: You can strike the floor with the toe, the heel, the whole foot; you can brush or shuffle or drag or stamp. Out of these elements, great dancers create tapestries of sound and dynamics, and distinctive styles and vocabularies. No one has ever tapped quite the way Glover does, or with such inventive musicality; you could strain your ears trying to "read" him. Even tap experts marvel at his virtuosity and wonder how certain steps are possible. His choices are often surprising. Who knows what prompts him to start creeping backward around the perimeter of the platform or stand in one corner playing with two different sounds the floor delivers—a deep, sonorous one and a high, sharper one? What decisions suddenly produce a brief bout of turning his legs rapidly in and out while delivering a varied fusillade of sounds? If this is tap as prayer, it's not the "please gimme" kind, but pure rejoicing. By the end of "Hark the Voice of Jesus," Glover has exploded into dotted-rhythm happiness, the steps bouncing him off the floor.

The sight of him is as engaging as the sound. He doesn't favor the narrow, leg-crossing moves that some tappers like to use (Astaire comes to mind). In quiet moments, he plants his feet shoulder-width apart, but he can expand in space—running in place while tapping a toe behind on each step, standing on one foot and reaching the other out to tickle the floor. Booting up the tempo, he stretches a hand out as if putting a key in the ignition. Moving from whispering feet to shouting ones, he seems to occupy more and more room.

The musicians arrive to limber up our ears and give Glover and Hunter a brief break. Tommy James (piano), Brian Grice (percussion), Patience Higgins (flute and saxophone), and Andy McCloud (double bass) all have impressive track records in jazz, and all but Grice have worked with Glover before. Their playing gives him new puzzles to create and solve, new games to play. He visits all the musicians— challenging Grice's percussion by building up a fluttery speed to match the cymbal work, confronting Higgins with complementary riffs, returning to Hunter and whipping down some stamps to help deliver her words. The players in turn respond to him. When he sets up a fast beat near McCloud, the musician starts his hands walking up and down the strings of his bass. Glover's amazing sounds function as another instrument, teasing out new ideas. His shifts of rhythm and accent—measures of 4/4, say, briefly reconfigured from eighth notes into triplets—provide pleasurable jolts. This tap "bible" is not about gospel but about brilliantly ingenious play in a patterned universe.


At villagevoice.com/dance, see Jowitt's reviews of Wally Cardona and more Ailey premieres.

 
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