Concert Review – Savion Glover Duke University Jan 23
Savion Glover doesn’t call himself a musician. He makes his living with his feet. But what he accomplishes with those two appendages is more musical than a lot of folks using their lips, hands and vocal chords can pull off.
The 40 year old Glover made his reputation as a dancer, performing the lead in the musical The Tap Dance Kid at the age of 11. By his 19th birthday, he had become the youngest National Endowment of the Arts recipient. At 23, he had a Tony for his starring role and choreography in ‘96’s Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk.
His latest endeavor, SoLe Sanctuary, is his tribute to the art of tap, the show touted as “a living altar” to his craft. The staging takes that description literally. The curtain opens to reveal a brazier of glowing coals on an altar center stage. A performer (Kietaro Hosokawa) dressed in a white robe sits in the lotus position on a wooden platform stage right and will remain in that position for most of the show. Spotlit portraits of tap dancers including Gregory Hines, Buster Brown and Sammy Davis Junior who have inspired Glover hang in the background. Two wooden platforms at the front of the stage, wired for sound, serve as the instruments on which Glover and fellow dancer and longtime friend Marshall Davis Jr. will perform.
Using the taps on his toes, Glover recreates the sound of a bongo drum, his heel taps the kick or bass drum. His feet barely scrape the platform at first, like brushes on a snare drum. But he quickly picks up the tempo until he sounds like Latin percussionist Tito Puente with a gallon of Cuban coffee in him.
The show turns into a cutting contest, with Glover banging out a routine and Davis taking that theme and going in a different direction with it. As good as Davis is, it quickly becomes apparent that Glover is in a different dimension, his improvisations splintering off so rapidly in unexpected directions that it’s impossible to follow or duplicate. Davis’ footwork seems more old school tap, while Glover’s feet move like they’re a separate entity powered from another dimension by an extraterrestrial turbine.
It’s an incredible athletic performance, an Olympic level demonstration of stamina. An hour in, Glover hasn’t stopped moving since he came out, his legs quivering like a man with 220 volts being passed thorough his body.
Glover conducts a master class in drumming, an Afro/Cuban feel laced with a dose of funk. At one point Glover grabs a mic and begins what sounds at first like a Native American chant that morphs into scat singing, his feet pounding out rhythms like a bevy of African drummers.
Even though you’re watching him do it right in front of you, it’s hard not to look around for the orchestra that your ears tell you must be hiding just offstage, providing this poly-rhythmic conflagration you’re hearing.
It’s exhausting for performer and audience. There are no breaks between the frenzied outbursts of drumming feet. Finally after an hour and a half, Glover heads off stage presumably to have a transfusion, gulp down several gallons of water and inhale a few tanks of oxygen. Davis takes over with a fifteen minute solo, keeping time with his heels like a ticking clock, gradually picking up the tempo ‘till his lower body is a blur.
Glover rejoins him and the two duel to a sweaty, throbbing finish that ends in a hug and leaves Glover on stage solo.
Other than the percussive sound of their feet, the only other music all evening has been a recording of John Coltrane’s “Resolutions” midway through the performance that Glover accompanied with some bebop tapping improvisation, and some original musical assemblages backing Glover’s spoken word free association voice over. “God has chosen me,” Glover’s voice booms over the speakers as he throws himself into a rubber-legged finale, toes topping out a frenzied Tito Puente timbale beat.
Finally, Glover stills his quivering legs, scraping one heel slowly across the percussive skin of his dance platform with a subdued hiss like a brushed snare drum. The audience trundles wearily out of the auditorium, looking whipped after a two hour endurance contest with the hardest working man in show business.
By Grant Britt