On Tap


Two years ago, Savion Glover tapped while an 11-person orchestra played Vivaldi and other famous dead composers, then induced the classical musicians to riff off a jazz ensemble’s patterns. He has stripped down his latest production so that feet on mic’d wood are all we hear. The man’s in love with sounds and rhythms, and he wants us to experience that interplay in its purest form.

The tap action is confined to three platforms, each equipped with its own speaker. In the opening number, he holds down the central one, flanked by Marshall L. Davis Jr. and Maurice Chestnut. As his green-shod feet stitch increasingly complex patterns onto the resonant floor, Davis and Chestnut tap a repeating bass line. When the three men suddenly drop into perfect unison, it takes your breath away. Their rhythmic relationship is even clearer when Glover works on the stage-left platform, and the other two lay down what I construed as a repeated eight-count phrase that ends with a three-count pause. Glover’s magical, lacy utterances bubble up and sink down around those solid beats—reinforcing them, sputtering into the silences. It’s difficult to tell when he’s improvising and when he’s sticking to set choreography; everything he does looks spontaneous. He rides the dancing, whether holding himself relaxed and upright above the patter of his feet, or hunkering down and digging into the floor, as if to keep the steps from galloping away with him.

As the evening progresses, I periodically shut my eyes and listen to the distinctions among sounds made by the heavy-hitting whole foot, the lighter-slapping toe, the purling interplay of toe and heel. Different pitches—whether created by footwork alone or aided by the properties of the different platforms—make the rhythmic texture sing. Especially during a stunning solo in the second half of the program, I can hear how Glover maintains a deep repeated motif while embroidering a filigree on top of it. If you watch his flying feet, you can’t even see how he’s producing the two strands simultaneously.

The production is not without visual appeal. The men change their casual, color-coordinated (probably sweat-soaked) T-shirts. Various slides, mostly of cascading or exploding patterns, are projected onto the backdrop. The lighting (concept by Glover, realized with the help of the Joyce crew) is dramatic and somewhat irrational in its changes. Why trouble to rig overhead spots that turn the side platforms red for only a few seconds?

Glover is gracious to his colleagues, ceding the stage to Davis for a long, mesmerizing, rhythmically profound solo. He’s also intent on making collaborations work. Three barefoot dancers (Sheila Barker, Lauren Last, and Jerica Niehoff) and a tutu’d woman on pointe (Suzana Stankovic) perform to tap accompaniment. The risk involved in comparing silent body rhythms with heard ones doesn’t quite pay off. The juxtaposition works when small, feisty Stankovitch’s neater steps prick at Glover’s rhythms (but not when she mimes a ballerina freak-out), and an elegant solo by Barker—featuring a rippling torso, smoothly stepping feet, and the swish of a filmy yellow drape—fits the percussive sounds nicely. Stankovic and Barker choreographed their solos. I don’t know who’s responsible for the trio sequences. The women cast sexy glances at the audience, and their untidy patterns and big, sweeping movements in a hybrid of modern dance and jazz don’t correlate with the precision and skill of the male tap virtuosos.

Glover’s performing is less introspective than it once was, but just as focused. And he looks utterly delighted to be on this stage with these people doing these steps. Maybe having his miraculous tapping speak for the misfit penguin, Mumbles, in the wonderful animated film Happy Feet contributed to his onstage ease. The little arctic hero knew happiness mostly through dancing and let that show.

Archive Highlights