Honors Tap Dancers of the 20th Century at the Warner
There is just no singular way to describe the wonder that is Savion Glover. Even before I spoke with him recently, when he called me at precisely 2:30 p.m., I was avalanched with multiple images and thoughts of him and was excited about the opportunity that was soon to unfold.
Talking with him on the telephone seemingly created some kind of crackling, vibrant energy that pulled me into a rhythm I had no control of--very much like the effect his dancing has on you, drawing you into his universe of art, performance and expression. It was my first time experiencing "dancing" on the telephone!
I was immediately surprised by the softness of his voice and how gently he communicated his thoughts, but was still assailed by his undeniable passion and sense of purpose (his quietness probably made it even more palpable) about what he does. I briefly shared with him that I aspired to be a dancer as a young boy but that my family's negative perception of tap dance as stereotypical "shufflin' and jivin," prevented that from happening. This launched him into a discussion about his understanding of whom he is and why he knows he was destined to do what he does.
He grew up in Newark, NJ with his single mother and two older brothers and began drum lessons at about 4 years old and tap at age 7. Early on, he was drawn to not just studying the dance but learning the history and developing a genuine sense of understanding about the rich legacy and tradition and presenting tap as the world-class art form that it really is. He says, "Tap did come from a negative place and that's how that stigma came about. Around the plantations, slaves didn't have much to do for amusement or entertainment and so shuffling and jiving evolved, but then, very much like the spirituals and the drums, it took on a whole new meaning and purpose."
He has taken classes in some of the more traditionally acknowledged dance forms: ballet, modern and jazz, etc., but that has been primarily a way of more broadly informing his own style and enhancing his choreographic and expressive vocabulary; a way of more generally connecting, if you will. Savion has had the blessing (his reference) of learning from the best at the very beginning of his training. His influences read like a Who's Who of the tap world: Henry Le Tang, the Hines brothers (particularly Gregory), Jimmy Slyde, Chuck Green, Lon Chaney, Honi Coles, Sammy Davis, Jr., Buster Brown, Howard "Sandman" Sims, Arthur Duncan, George Tillman and Dianne Walker, among an astonishing list of others. Le Tang calls him "the Sponge," "...because he learns very quickly with everything that is thrown at him." Glover is interested in restoring African roots to tap and putting it back into the contemporary black context and is on a mission to reclaim the rhythm that was lost when tap dancing was recycled after many generations. It started with Noble Sissle's and Eubie Blake's 1921 Broadway musical, "Shuffle Along," and then in Hollywood where it lost its meaning. He wants to keep the tap real and honor that authentic African-rooted sound.
Savion first garnered attention in his 1985 Broadway debut ( he was 12 years old!) in the play, "The Tap Dance Kid." This was followed by success in the 1989 musical revue, "Black and Blue," a performance for which he became one of the youngest Tony Award nominees at the time. Then came "Jelly's Last Jam," in 1992, where he played the younger incarnation of the title character, portrayed by his mentor, the late, great Gregory Hines. 1996 brought his seminal masterpiece, "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk," for which he received the Tony Award for Best Choreography. What followed and continues to this day is a dazzling array of explorations, performances and collaborations in film, television and concerts with some of the most accomplished and innovative artists of the times.
Savion's been teaching tap since he was 14 and started the HooFeRzClub School for Tap in Newark. He says he is very hands on with the young people he teaches and tries to instill in them the same regard and understanding of this art form that he has. "My school is in a neighborhood where the kids hang out and ride around on their bikes and sometimes I just scoop 'em up and take them inside to share some knowledge about what I do. To me it's far more than just learning steps and routines, it's about viscerally connecting to the spirit and energy that comes from wholly embracing what you're doing and realizing that the creative challenges in doing so are infinite and uplifting." In 2007 Savion Glover Productions created the National Tap Teaching Workshop Tour to encourage communities to invest in the long tradition of Tap History—continuing to spread joy through tap percussion, rhythm and dance. He answers requests and brings his expertise and excitement all around the country.
"Gregory Hines was everything to me. A father, a friend, a mentor--we had this incredible bond and connection that I try to honor in my approach to inspiring those I teach. Receiving awards and recognition at such a young age was beneficial in that it helped me see what I truly wanted to do and empowered me beyond what I imagined. However, the fame, celebrity and attention is nothing to me if it's not contributive to my goals as an artist and performer. That will always be foremost with me."
This Tony Award-winning choreographer, actor and director will join with highly accomplished and renowned tapper Marshall Davis Jr. in a performance of their collaboration, "SoLe SANTUARY: A hoofer's meditation on the art of tap," at the Warner Theatre on Saturday, March 31 at 8 PM. The piece is described as, "an exuberant passage of time through tap and a deliberate, reverential homage to Gregory Hines and many of the aforementioned great tap dancers of the 20th century."
It is folly to simply think of Savion Glover as a phenomenally gifted and skilled tap dancer. He has recreated himself as an instrument, he is a composer who grabs the beat and reforms it as a new incarnation that thrills, excites, informs and entertains. He's on a mission to which he is deeply committed and the world will gloriously observe him as he makes his way through his journey. More importantly, he is dedicated to preserving the legacy and legitimacy of the art form he has come to epitomize and this he does with exuberance and grandeur!
The forward thinking griot, indeed!