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September 2004

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Juilliard Dance

Published: September 14, 2004
Category: review

The Magnificent Tapper of Our Time: Savion Glover

By Rachel Straus

Tap virtuoso Savion Glover moves loose as a shoestring to produce a razor-sharp sound. He sings bebop with his feet. And he considers himself a drummer more than a dancer, though he has won at age 31 more awards than any other tap dancer of his generation.

Mr. Glover opened the sixth annual “Evening Stars,” the most comprehensive series of free dance concerts in New York City. Sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the Joyce Theater, the event – launched in 1999 at The World Trade Center – was placed on hold after the September 11 attacks. But last Friday night a large crowd sat on damp grass and stood on tiptoes to watch Mr. Glover and his five piece jazz band groove at “Evening'” makeshift new home in Battery Park.

Mr. Glover’s trademark performing style – a downward-cast brow hidden by a mass of hair – deliberately counters the extroverted “Ta Da” style of 1930s tap dancing. But his approach has recently undergone a seismic shift. After the death of tap mentor Gregory Hines in 2003, Mr. Glover tied back his hair, slipped physical humor into his act, and spoke directly to his audience. Significantly, he named his pick-up company “Ti dii.”

Mr. Glover’s performance proved again that his reputation as a sensation doesn’t rest with one show or a barreling series of steps. His fame finds increasingly firmer ground with each wildly syncopated performance that pushes the boundaries of tap-dance sound.

On Friday, Mr. Glover struck the microphoned stage with the force of a marching gang, with a ballerina’s effortlessness, and with the lightning speed of hummingbird wings. How many feet can one dancer become? For Glover, don’t bother counting. Just enjoy.

Mr. Glover intermittently broke up his serious tapping to make the audience laugh. When a boy appeared from the crowd and was lifted into Mr. Glover’s arms, the audience hollered as the pint-sized tapper named Mekka battered the stage with his tiny feet. People cooed as Mr. Glover caught his breath.

Mr. Glover also gave tap-dancer Marshall Davis Jr. the floor. Davis’s style is just as jaw-droppingly intense as Mr. Glover’s, but Davis danced with greater muscular tension and worked in a lower tonal register with his taps. When these two veterans of the Tony-award winning show “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk” danced in unison, they created an uncanny synchronicity.

At the show’s end Mr. Glover named his final number “Star and Stripes Forever, and For Now.” Then he smacked down a military march, throwing his head uncharacteristically high, as Patience Higgins on saxophone darkened the mood with a minor-chord melody. On every third or fourth beat, Mr. Glover’s foot crashed like a fallen soldier.


On the following night’s “Evening Stars” performance, a trio of funereal dances – Jose Limon’s “Psalm,” Jacqulyn Buglisi’s “Requiem,” and Paul Taylor’s “Promethean Fire” – commemorated the anniversary of September 11, raising the question of how to honor tragedy tastefully. The three works suffered from being grouped together and from being danced on a day marked by unavoidable gravitas.

As a helicopter whirred overhead, police sirens wailed, and a woman screamed out angrily at another audience member, the dancers crawled on their hands and knees, fell into crumpled positions, often from the heights of leaps, and tried to infuse the evening with yet more anxiety and sadness. People remained glued to their damp seats during Mr. Glover’s performance and laughed gleefully with the tapper of our time. But on September 11 a steady stream of audience members trickled out after one hour too many of solemnity.

It was a shame, because at the Joyce in 2003, better lighting and seating brought Faure’s choral hymn “Requiem” and Ms. Buglisi’s uninhibited exaggerated gestures to heart-thumping exhilaration. In her dance, five women’s long-trained gowns were so rich in color and texture that their limbs appeared to strike in blood-red anger, slide into earth-brown surrender, and soar into sky-blue hope.

In better circumstances, Paul Taylor’s dance “Promethean Fire” also sizzles, especially when J.S. Bach’s driving melodies are fully audible. Fortunately, no sound was needed in Taylor’s finale, when seven women were spirited aloft, each on her partner’s shoulders, in split-second unison to become soaring birds, roaring above the dark-lit stage.

The only dance on the program that didn’t suffer from being performed outside (as well as the only one not made to specifically address the 2001 attacks) was Jose Limon’s “Psalm,” which began the evening. Mr. Limon’s 13-member group opened “Psalm” with a running pattern, driving in and out of the stage like a fluttering heart. Dancer Robert Regala’s solo, marked by Zen stillness, brought much-needed tranquility to the evening.

The New York Sun

Copyright 2004 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC

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