Savion Glover: Feet First, a live review (February 28, 2011)

In 1996, a career-defining stint in the Broadway hit Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk established Newark-born Savion Glover as the true heir apparent to Gregory Hines and the so-called “Hooferz” tradition of tap. Fast forward to last Monday night, when Glover electrified Cornell’s Bailey Hall with his unstoppable feet, and one sees just how far he has come. One is hard pressed to name another dancer, tap or otherwise, alive today who has generated as much inspiration and appreciation. Rooted as he is in the solid surface beneath him, he paints pictures with body parts that normally get us from Point A to Point B, but which in his creative web take on an entirely new form of communicative power. Key to his sound is his sharp attack (what he calls “hitting”), and this he brought in full measure to a packed house for his latest project, “SoLo in TiME,” which draws upon the rhythms and emotional acuity of flamenco.

As one who continually engages with histories and modes, Glover is no stranger to the importance of an evocative moment. Flamenco, therefore, feels like a logical next “step” for one of his caliber and drive. With the group Flamenkina providing a fine mesh of tried-and-true sentiment and modern sensibility, not to mention a star turn from BARE SOUNDZ member Marshall Davis Jr., Glover was, to be sure, in intuitively minded company. His setup reflected the exacting nature of the hoofer’s craft: A raised square stage miked from within was surrounded by four speakers and flanked by the musicians. Of the latter, guitarist Gabriel Hermida was first to join in at stage left. Starting at the margins and working their way to the center, the percussive sounds of Hermida’s instrument provided a likely foil to the various snaps, slides, clicks, and cries from those loosed taps. With such a “vocal” range as Glover possesses, he spoke to his audience at every turn.

Flamenkina

Rather than start with a bang, he restrained himself at the back of the stage, as if warming to the spotlight he outshone. I could not help but compare the dexterity of his feet to that of fingers on castanets, as reflected in the superb dynamic control of his instrument. Beneath him, the stage was a taut drum, replete with tuned sections and a wide range of tones. Once bassist Francesco Beccaro and Carmen Estevez—who played the cajón (a Peruvian box drum that seems to be popping up everywhere these days) and graced us with her mellifluous voice—took to the stage, the musical elements of the show began to soar. With a smile of life-affirming joy, Glover negotiated a complex landscape of creative signatures with infectious passion for the material at hand. Like the sweat from his brow, it was a veritable shower of kinesis.

Estevez and Glover shared some of the concert’s most intimate exchanges, those tapping feet the metronomic tide to her sandy shores. Although the band was sometimes lost in the sound mix, if only because the hoofer’s sound rang with such conviction, things balanced out once he and Estevez closed the circle. Still, at its best, the band enacted a glorious unity.

Glover had some fun with the audience during a solo rendition of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Feeding off our rhythmic clapping, he took the interaction as far as it would go before abandoning it in favor of a more complex unraveling, whereupon he was joined by Davis, whose synchronicity and more compact style made for some enthralling interactions. Both hoofers practically leaped from the raised stage whenever they were finished, as if the call of that resonant surface was too much to ignore.

Glover’s musical approach is anything but programmatic. Here is an artist who paints in feelings and not images, who dances with palms open, as if in supplication to the gifts with which he has been graced. Seeing him live, one experiences tap at its most essential. No matter how fast he gets, his feet ring through with clarity and immediacy. In this regard, the show’s title might as well have been flipped to read: “TiME in SoLo,” for no matter how far he abandoned himself to the spirit of the moment, he harbored a seemingly infinite inner peace, so that by the end most of us were sitting transfixed. It was the kind of show during which we almost dared not tap our feet, for we could add nothing to something so lushly realized.

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