Savion Glover, a Rhythmic Musicianby Emily Macel
Tap luminary speaks about his new show and the evolution of his work
There is an intensity to Savion Glover’s tap dancing that fills your eyes and ears and soul when you watch him perform. Each sound that slams, clicks, shuffles, flaps, trills, and stomps out of his shoes is loaded with the history of the art form. It may seem like a heavy burden to have to carry on the history of legends and keep this style of dance alive today, but when you watch Glover perform, all that hard work looks full of pleasure.
This month, Glover gives us three full weeks at the Joyce Theater, March 3–22, to experience his style. Glover calls his style of tap dance the “Hooferz Style,” and to him it’s all about keeping a legacy alive. “I’m just carrying on the tradition of some very important men. The style of Jimmy Slyde, the style of Gregory Hines, of Lon Chaney. I’m happy to be able to say that I’m continuing on in the tradition of the style of dance that they do. And that is the Hooferz Style, this approach to tap dance that is musical.”
For Glover’s newest work, Solo In Time, he’ll be performing with live flamenco music in addition to his classic jazz rhythmic interchange. Glover says he won’t have a full flamenco orchestra, but he’s “picked certain elements from the flamenco world that will make up the sounds” for his performance. “I’m always inspired by music. I love all types of music, and flamenco was just next on the list of music to match the dance with. [My goal is] not to take anything away from the flamenco dancer, but to pair or match tap with the flamenco music. [I want to] allow people to understand and appreciate tap as music versus dance,” he says. “This approach is more about the music. I love everything about flamenco music. It’s one of the purest forms of expression in the area of music.”
Though the title of the show is Solo in Time, Glover won’t be alone on stage. He calls the dancers and musicians who have been performing with him for the past several years his “band.” (Band members include fellow tap dancers Marshall Davis, Jr. and Cartier Williams, and a jazz ensemble of bass, horns, and drums.) He calls the setup and the improvisational banter between tappers and musicians “Bare Soundz,” a nod to the no frills, no narrative, fly-by-the-feel-of-the-beat approach to his shows. Bare Soundz will appear in Solo in Time’s first act; in the second act, he’ll introduce the flamenco aspect. “Bare Soundz will continue to educate the people on this style of dance, allow [them] to understand and appreciate the style of tap that I do as music.”
Glover has performed all over the world, from huge venues like Sadler’s Wells in London, to small dark clubs, like the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City. “For the Joyce, because of its house and with respect to what the Joyce is, I try to go with new dance works, new dance projects. I believe that this production of Solo in Time is going to show off not only new dance works by myself, but will also continue to educate with the band, continue to allow the audience to appreciate the dance. The only way we can do it is through the Bare Soundz setup; the audience is forced to listen to the dance.”
Go ahead Savion, twist our arms. Being “forced” to listen to the music that Glover produces with his feet is a transcendent experience. There comes a moment when you’re so into the rhythm, and you’re so into watching him get into that rhythm—dreadlocks flying about, arms pushing and punching to the beat, eyes closed tight with a slight grimace of delight on his face—that you almost forget you’re watching a legend and a dancer altogether. You hear it—and you get what he’s trying to convey.
Success came early and often for the 35-year-old Glover. By the age of ten, he was starring on Broadway in the show The Tap Dance Kid and by 16 had made his film debut in one of the most well known films of his dance genre, Tap, with his mentor Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr. In 1990, he joined the cast of Sesame Street, endearing himself to children and adults alike while tap dancing on fire escape stairs and teaching Elmo to tie his shoelaces, or doing a tap/rap with Snuffaluffagus. In 1996 his fame grew when he starred in the musical production Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk. He’s performed alongside countless entertainers, taken his tap shoes around the world, and even become an animated cartoon when he performed the sounds for tap dancing penguin Mumbles in the 2007 flick Happy Feet.
When asked how his style has evolved over the years, Glover said, “I’ve become more attached to the musicality of tap dance allowing people to hear the rhythm, hear the music, hear the melodies through the style of tap that I do. It’s sort of moving past the visual aspect of the dance and getting into the audio aspect of it.” Glover finds his work to be a necessary educational tool. “I’m trying to make people aware of why the dance needs to be heard, why there’s such amplification versus being criticized for being loud. I think I figured out a way to still give people the dance and it’s still loud but it’s not crowded, it doesn’t have a lot of other things going on. I’ve sort of stripped it down and I’m giving the people a chance to hear the dance. That’s been my goal and my mission: to just go as bare as possible and just allow people to hear the dance as song, as music.”
Emily Macel is an associate editor at Dance Magazine.