Tap quarks & quirks

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by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

The theme for PIFA is time travel and Savion Glover did a little of that with “DANCE SPACE”, a single performance directed by Chaney Chuck Buster Brown and Slyde. The high-concept was just a backdrop to the virtuoso tap star, who without doubt, is on his own time-space continuum. The Academy of Music stage was transformed into a galaxy with Glover aloft in the middle of the proscenium, on a tap-board plateau, dancing among the other stars.  Before the dancing starting, a prologue about the Biblical birth of the universe was performed by Broadway star Justin Guarini, narrator CeCeLia Ann Birt and soprano Elisabeth Stevens.

Glover’s near hour long solo rolls out in ponderous time as he taps out rhythms that cue synthesizer echoes and other spacey effects. It seemed like a dance version of method acting or sense memory exercises. At other points, Glover seemed fixated on points on the floor, refusing to look at the audience, reminiscent of Miles Davis, whose body language carried the message that the music (not the star) was all that mattered. But this approach, however artistically valid, can read as spaced out. There were moments when Glover seemed too much in his dance head, dancing himself into metronomic corners, then painstakingly getting out of them.

What did work were the more structured choreographic progressions.  One of Glover’s signatures is to dance with his torso half bent over, to concentrate on the exactness and power of the syncopation. When he does open his arms and you see more of his full body articulation, it is so joyous and charged with his indelible dance expression.

If seated on the floor of the house, one was unable to see his legs and feet for much of the performance. Course, maybe the footwork was just for the upper tiers. Eventually he moved forward and displayed his almost singular mach speed tap moves, dense percussive runs. Meanwhile, some audience members didn’t wait around for those electrifying money shots.

By the middle, Glover got into more of a pulsing groove, the audience burst into applause when he returned to a repeated funkier pulse, for instance and in the last sections, the tap patterning was more liberated as well. Some backward circular patterns, those traveling horizontals, and, Glover’s seismic, atom-splitting time steps. And without doubt, audiences are still astounded at his speed, invention (however momentary) and remarkable stamina. In musical terms it is the equivalent of say Gene Krupa performing the Sing, Sing, Sing solo x ten or Itzah Perelman playing all of Mozart’s violin concertos without stopping.

Back to time-traveling,  Glover threw in, obtusely,  a phrase nod to Bill “Bogangles” Robinson- the hand on hip- hitch step that has its own notoriety in tap history. There were some passing references to Sandman Sims and the magical voice-over of  the late tap virtuoso Gregory Hines. The sound field for DANCE SPACE was definitely a missed opportunity for something distinctive as a tap dancer direct dialogue. Theatrical at best, but mostly just generic electronica.

Savion Glover’s
DANCE SPACE
March 30, Academy of Music
Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA)

1 Comment

  1. Maria Tomkins says:

    We were at Savion’s show on Saturday. This is the 5th time we’ve seen him and the 1st disappointment. My husband and I were seated 7 rows from the stage and were one of the unfortunates that could only see him from the knees up for most of his performance. Who was the genius that designed the staging? Most of the audience that were in the 1st 3 or 4 rows of the orchestra left before the performance was over. When you’ve paid $65 per seat, you should expect a better viewing of a dancer’s feet. I was so pissed off that I almost walked out but my husband, generous soul that he is, talked me out of it.

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