It’s hard to think of a better dancer to lead a tribute to the late stars of the tap world than the ever suave, ever funky Savion Glover, a living legend himself, and a natural successor to the hoofing throne. His humble homage is a must-see for aficionados of the genre, teeming as it is with intricate syncopation and a whole lot of soul.
Glover is widely celebrated for returning the African-American roots of hoofing to the forefront of the modern tap scene, and his reverence for this rhythmic heritage is on full display in SoLe Sanctuary. Portraits of icons like Steve Cargos, Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis, Jr – the ‘spirits known’ credited for the piece’s choreography – light up the back screen as Glover and old friend Marshall Davis Jr take turns tearing up a stage rigged to amplify every shuffle and tap. Meanwhile a third, unidentified man spends the entire performance moving through a series of poses on stage right, his silent meditation underscoring the introspective mood. It’s all very earnest, and though the solemnity feels a little stifling at times, the underlying sentiment is undeniably poignant.
The terpsichore unfolds like a jazz jam, mixing long improvised segments with structured bouts of choreography, the dancers’ percussive taps and claps and occasional bellows guiding and steadying the beat. The tempo vacillates slickly, the rhythmic flow lulling us into a stupor of gentle shuffles one minute and morphing into a furious spate of cramprolls and pullbacks the next.
Side by side Davis and Glover make neat foils, right down to their respective black and white garb. The former is reserved where the latter is unhindered; Davis’ power stems from the earth while Glover’s appears to shine down on him from some beacon up above. And yet the two remain improbably, admirably in sync, churning out complex phrases with impeccable clarity. At one point, Davis executes a series of flaps so breakneck that he appears to hover above the stage, whirring like a hummingbird feverishly beating its wings.
SoLe is a thoroughly modern affair, but the influences of the predecessors it celebrates abound: finger wags, chugs, call and response bits, and the classic hop-shuffle-step-shuffle-ball-change all make appearances. Those looking for a cheery set of wings will find themselves disappointed, however, as Glover opts for a largely inward-looking motif rather than Broadway-style showboating one. The resulting atmosphere is one of a private gig, complete with brief breaks for the performers to wipe their brow and congratulate each other before firing off another round to the crowd’s delight.
The piece is fluid and amorphous, and its improvisational component frees it from strict time restraints (the programme lists the running time as 80 minutes, but opening night lasted nearly two hours). As a result, it’s easy to get sidetracked in some of the longer stretches, particularly those unpunctuated by music, and find yourself wondering where it’s all going and how much longer it will take to get there. The flow is organic and the emotion unfiltered, but perhaps this meandering piece is one best left to the fans.
Sharing Energies: a Q&A with Savion Glover