Savion Glover now sports a registered trademark after his name. As if any other tap dancer could pass for him. In his tremendous new program, Classical Savion, he’s not like the suave Paul Draper of yesteryear, matching nimble feet to Bach. When the 10-member orchestra led by Robert Sadin emits the staccato blasts that open the stormy third movement of “Summer” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Glover, who has his own kind of elegance, hits the mic’d stage with two feet, ready to nail the Baroque.
And nail it he does. Glover acknowledges his debts to tap masters of old and to the late, great Gregory Hines, whose picture graces the onstage piano, but he’s something else. Hunkered down, arms any old way, hands sometimes flapping loose, dreadlocked hair flying, sweat dripping, he uses his feet as if they were fingers. Vivaldi is a great playmate for him. Glover sneaks around in four selections from the pastoral tone poem, testing their ground—doubling some of the composer’s rhythms and subtly syncopating others. He may patter in place during light moments in “Autumn,” or whip the rollicking dance of the third movement along with jumps and toe-taps. I’m oversimplifying. The complicated percussion that Glover draws from his intensely listening soul and translates to the floor beggars description.
He doesn’t court the audience, but rather lures us into his intense concentration and lets his delight in the performance show, tackling with equal sensitivity Astor Piazzolla’s gloss on the Seasons, the first movement of Bach’s third Brandenburg, two other Bach selections, Bartók’s “Rumanian Folk Dance,” and Mendelssohn’s Octet—pulling out something a little different for each. On opening night, he asked Sadin to repeat the last parts of a couple of selections; he was just getting going (this in an intermission-less 90-minute show, during which he leaves the stage only three times—to change his shirt).
He treats Sadin and the chamber orchestra of young musicians as if they were jazz colleagues, or he wanted them to feel they were. When first violinist Weiwei Le solos, he bends forward and checks her out approvingly, feet still slapping and shivering against the floor. Sadin, at home in both jazz and classical music, keeps swiveling to watch Glover, and the dancer occasionally shadows the conductor’s gestures.
For the finale, “The Stars and Stripes Forever (For now),” patterned by Glover and pianist Tommy James after John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things,” Glover hits his jazz stride, introducing James, bass player Andy McCloud, saxophonist and flute player Patience Higgins, and drummer Brian Grice as they appear, but also drawing the chamber players into the mix, naming them and having each riff briefly on McCloud’s eight-note pattern. They’re new to this, but game. Le and Svetlana Tsoneva, playing violin next to her, laugh in delight, and bassist Kevin Mayner gets into a fragmentary question-and-response that makes Glover take notice. By the end of the run, they ought to be swinging.
Never straining for effect or dazzle, always musical, Glover dances as if he’d been born breathing rhythms. Which just get richer every year.
The fascinating Australian dancer-choreographer Ros Warby is a different sort of improviser. In her Swift, subtitled “Fairytales of the Heart and Mind,” she’s supported not only by her own formal parameters, but by the work of two longtime collaborators: composer Helen Mountfort, who plays her cello onstage along with the taped elements of her score, and Margie Medlin, who designed the remarkable set, projections, and lighting.
Warby explores a space that easily suggests the chambered mind—traveling a diagonal path of light, say, between the layered scrims at the back and the curving plywood wall that stands close to us at one side, or stepping along a corridor that suddenly lights up between two of the scrims. As with Alice in her wonderland, spaces change; an area that was prominent a second ago disappears, while another opens up. By means of projections, her body grows huge. Her limber legs dance in filmed close-up; her image flits by. She sits beneath her own grimacing face or watches while, on the screen behind her, immense arms reach out and embrace her.
Warby’s dancing is as slippery as the terrain. She melts in and out of poses and attitudes with rubbery grace—soft yet steely, uncommonly flexible. Her arms reach out with spidery precision, then turn gossamer. Impulses slip around her torso, cause her to swing a leg that looks almost boneless or collapse into a knock-kneed plié. The personae she takes on are as evanescent as everything else: her face, as she speaks silently, ugly with rage, then anxiously charming. Once, her voice tightens from high, shy gibberish to tones resembling Donald Duck’s. The goblin morphs into a beauty queen.
Her appearance changes too. She’s all in red for the first part—adding and discarding articles of clothing—and Medlin often bathes her in red light; in the second part of the hour-long piece, she wears a blue top and a tiny ruffled skirt. Mountfort underscores the image of transforming layers: Melodic bowing; a hollow, tinkly piano sound; whispering voices; and a polite rock beat are just some of the possibilities. And, like Warby, she fades away and reappears in new corners of this delicately ominous landscape.