Funky Nights


The camera closes in on Sandman Sims’s rueful face; nowadays, he says, young black men aren’t interested in tapping. The year was 1978, in the film No Maps on My Taps. Things have picked up. Six guys join the phenomenal Savion Glover and funk princess Ayodele Casel in hammering rhythms into the stage of the Variety Arts Theatre in Glover’s Live Communication (through May 22, unless it stays all summer). And I do mean hammering. Glover’s style, as he has said, is “raw, rough, and ragged.” The dancers spraddle their legs and hunker down, although suave Abron Glover sometimes taps tall. Chance Taylor communes so intently with the floor that he’s practically bent double. Even nine-year-old Cartier Williams sounds as if he’s got power feet twice their actual size. The terrific rhythms Omar Edwards, Jason Samuels, and Baakari Wilder slap out in their own expert ways have the verve of street slang and the chilling riffle of automatic fire. Even though they’re in perfect control of their feet, they some times look about to fall. The rap rhythms of poet Reg E. Gaines sound mild in comparison.

Glover mocks the elegance of the old-time tappers, coming out to partner Casel wearing tails over a T-shirt printed with a vest and white tie. All hail the new elegance. And I don’t mean the constantly changing parade of outfits from Armani Exchange, DKNY, Phat Farm, and other designers. This tapping may be brash and tough-footed, but it’s all about the music holding down center stage, where Eli Fountain, Patience Higgins, Tommy James, and Gregory Jones play. Casel may flash a grin or a hey-you-out-there glare as she delivers an articulated jabber of heel and toe. But these dancers don’t pile on charm; they pay attention to the musical challenges they’re tossed.

Savion Glover makes miracles happen. It’s a marvel how he can fit so many different sounds into a shuffle when he’s barely lifting his shoes off the floor. He sets up a tight tremor in one leg and produces a rapid, delicate shimmer. He responds wittily to Fountain’s games with triangle and tambourine. He plays with trickily miked areas of the floor.

Reverence for the old-time tap mixes with streetwise style. Guys who’ve prowled the aisles with a tap shoe in either pocket burst onto the stage for the traditional final jam and know what’s what. Like the stars of the evening, they give it to that floor.

Judson Church needs a sprung floor. Not to give prayers a little extra loft, but for the dancing that’s returned there in recent years: Movement Re search’s free, no-frills Monday night shows and the Dance of African De scent Downtown (DADD) series. A fundraising week of events, titled “No Limits,” celebrates the church’s history as a stamping ground for ’60s radical dance, poetry, and political activism. Programs evoking Judson Dance Theater (“and beyond”) view the ’60s through a ’90s lens. (Is it while choreographer-filmmaker Yvonne Rainer is reminiscing about the 1962 founding of Judson Dance Theater that some one’s cell phone goes off?) In commemoration of the 1970 People’s Flag Show at Judson (protesting the arrests of those purportedly desecrating the flag), seven women and a man undress and perform Clarinda Mac Low’s reconstruction of this version of Rainer’s seminal 1966 Trio A naked, except for the American flags they wear as long bibs. It’s touching to see them attempt the noncommittal delivery that was part of the original aesthetic.

Scott Cunningham, Chuck Finlon, and Dean Moss also adopt a matter-of-fact demeanor to perform David Gordon’s 1974 Chair, originally a duet for Gordon and his wife, Valda Setterfield. This is, unavoidably, the jock version; the men towel off and down water between repeats of the beautifully constructed and pristine task of maneuvering over, under, and onto metal folding chairs. In his new Middlepass #2: From Here to Here, Gus Solomons jr treats his long, sharp limbs like precision tools for cutting the space and the past into slices.

Sara Rudner and Douglas Dunn haven’t danced together for more than 20 years. But, goaded by vocalist Lisa Karrer and Stella Chiu playing a bowed Chinese instrument, they improvise with wily ease and camaraderie—she inimitably sensual and on fire with the pleasure of dancing, he slightly wary, like a zoologist stumbling on a dazzling new species. Political irony enters in The Secret Weapon as Wendy Perron and Dan Froot make a strenuous and hilarious team reconnaissance through the audience: “I’m attempting a double-shoulder mount.” “Are we ready for the coordinated lap sit?” (I paraphrase.) Once through the maze, they take turns copying each other’s moves—aided, or not, by text drawn from such sources as the Center for Defense Information.

Today’s freedom and boldness are rep resented by the knockout post-African dancing of Maia Claire Garrison and the superb ensemble singing, talking, and vocal rhythming of Steven Sapp, Gamal Abdel Chasten, Lemon, Mildred Ruiz, and Flaco Navaja.

Twenty-five dollars buys a square foot of new floor.

Archive Highlights