The great tapping machine

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If you thought that tap dance as a popular art form was dead, before you go to the funeral you may want to catch Savion Glover in Classical Savion at the Detroit Opera House this weekend. Glover — rhymes with lover — has been infusing tap dancing with new life.

This 90-minute show of virtuosic tap dancing is performed with both classical and jazz musicians. But make no mistake — Glover, at 32, is still “The Tap Dance Kid” — the 10-year-old who scored on Broadway in the eponymous musical with his mentor, Gregory Hines, in 1983. Glover’s jazz, rock and pop musical style was honed on the stage. In 1996, his show Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk came on like a blast of dynamite: He and the cast of male dancers exploded into a new tap form. Hard, athletic — more like soccer than swimming — and fueled by propulsive, manic energy.

Glover choreographed the show too, creating his own genre: brute tap. When the dust cleared, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson were buried under the rubble. A full-blown star had arrived, and a new fusion of rock, rap and tap had emerged. The dance world awarded him with two Fred Astaire awards and the off-Broadway pros gave him two Obies; the Tony folks piled on more treasure when the show opened on Broadway and he walked off with a statuette for choreography.

As impressive as Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk was for sheer physicality and for putting into taps the rage of the black man, the dancing was never pretty. It drilled holes of anger in the stage at the negative experience of being black in America. The dancing stayed close and low to the ground, and taps became like machine guns. The band was amplified to rock-concert level and ear-splitting taps matched the intensity. The show pitched itself at the crossover crowd from rock concerts; hip — and hip-hop — young men and women crowded the theaters.

Now, Glover is back with a different vehicle, but he’s definitely still in the driver’s seat. As choreographer and sole performer of Classical Savion, he shares the stage with 13 musicians, performing without intermission. Music featured in the program includes three movements from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and others, including Dvorak, Mozart, Bartok, Shostakovich, Mendelssohn and, last on the program, but by no means Liszt, The Stars and Stripes Forever. The musicians will be amplified.

As in his last outing, Improvography, with his company Ti Dii, the dancing happens in an unplanned way; steps flow out of the music and its rhythms in response to flourishes from the musicians; Glover’s steps have become more indescribable and even unrecognizable, leaving critics grasping for adjectives.

Detroit Opera House dance director Carol Halsted says the Glover show “is very different than the Kirov,” the famed Russian ballet company from Leningrad that recently opened the dance season at the Detroit Opera House, the only venue in the Detroit area to even produce a dance season. Glover is followed by the Joffrey Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal and the return of the unassailable, crossover Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre next May. Glover may seem like a one-tap wonder in that line-up, but Halsted calls the show a total package.

Wearing size 12-1/2 EE tap shoes, Glover has been on tour with Classical Savion almost since it opened at New York’s famed Joyce Theatre for a sellout four-week run in 2004. Detroit is the final stop on the 2005 fall tour; the three performances should appeal to the club crowd, the dance crowd and thrill seekers.

Once the staple of TV variety shows, Broadway musicals and, of course, motion pictures, tap dancing has gradually disappeared from most venues. Some kids still take lessons, but if they step out onto the stage it will be more than likely in a recital. Glover is still out there pounding the pavement, dreadlocks flying, arms flailing, putting armored shoe sole to floor and picking out a percussive dance. As long as he’s alive and kicking, so is one of the greatest of American art forms.


8 p.m., Saturday Nov. 19, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 20, Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit. Tickets are $23-$73; call 313-237-SING or 248-645-6666.

Michael H. Margolin, a Detroit area writer who reports on the performing arts, is a former dance student who embarrassed himself in several Nutcrackers. Send comments to [email protected]
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