BWW Reviews: SAVION GLOVER Improvises Sound and Motion with Happy Feet
"It's just like... singing, with your body," says Happy Feet film penguin Mumble. Savion Glover, who created the movement of that beloved character, needed no movie magic to show audiences exactly what it is like to unite motion and music in the first of three performances at Washington, DC's Howard Theatre.
Throughout the night, Glover's feet conducted a conversation: percussive, playful, insistent.
The performance began with just the dancer, quietly, as if he was exploring the acoustical properties of the tap floor for the first time. The sound and cadence built from crisp simplicity to a layered cacophony of sound and motion. Soon, Savion Glover was joined by fellow tapper Marshall L. Davis, Jr. Together they traded measures and motion for more than 20 minutes - simply the two of them on the stage with just the sound of their taps.
The performance, the first of three nights (though August 25), involved the ears as much as the eyes. The 1910 Howard Theatre, once a jewel in DC's "Black Broadway", helped launch the careers of luminaries from Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald to Marvin Gaye and the Supremes. Savion Glover, though clearly a dancer of this time, as a student of legendary tappers like Gregory Hines extends the lineage of a great American art form yet reaches back to its heyday. The beautifully renovated Howard Theatre, as a supper club, makes attending a performance feel like an event, and has a marvelous retro feel. I worried that those on the main floor (as opposed to the elevated bar and balcony levels) might have trouble seeing since there is no elevated rake to the floor, but while some dance performers are all about visual spins and slides, Glover leads an audience through a more auditory exploration of sound and rhythm.
Marveled early in his career as a wunderkind, now at 41 this Tony Award-winner relaxes into a mature and assured improvisational exploration of music, movement, tempo and pure enjoyment.
The first two numbers of the evening are without musical support - just a conversation of metal and wood conducted by masters. There is only so much metal on the taps of the shoes, leaving us to marvel at how it can create such a complex pulse - crescendos, diminuendos and a foot fluttering too fast to follow with the eye.
By the third number and through the rest of the performance, Glover was joined by a jazz combo: pianist Marcus Persiani, bassist Alex Hernandez, drummer Dwayne "Cook" Broadnax, and saxophonist Bill Saxon. Glover makes the fifth member of this company - playfully trading, improvising, connecting, conversing. We are privy to a conversation, a call and response from instrument to dancer. In other dance forms the artist interprets the music, but here Glover makes the music with his feet. But as band leader, too often Glover's back was to his audience; his great connection was with the members of his band, leaving the audience at times to simply observe. There were intimate moments shared among those on stage or internal moments when the artist lost himself in the music and I wish Glover had reached out to include the audience more.
Though nearing the 90-minute mark of a high energy show, the audience begged an encore. An improvisation of My Favorite Things, this final number was indeed clearly one of the favorite things of the evening. With pinwheeling feet and a playful interplay among dancers Glover and Davis and the jazz combo, this encore was performed much more for and with the audience than the previous numbers. At times the sound level threatened to drown out the unique sounds of the taps, but soon I could feel the bass line echoing in my own chest and I discovered that the hearts of all of us in the audience were thrumming in unison, truly united as a part of the evening's performance.
Runtime: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
Photo credit: Savion Glover Productions, Inc.