July 17, 2019
From the first thud of his sneaker, you are primed to the limitless potential of
Savion Glover’s feet. In introducing LADY 5 @ SAViON GLoVER’s BARoQUE’BLAK
TaP Café, he speaks chummily to Joyce patrons between verses of what feels like an
air, until a shuffling hi-hat pattern cracks a window into an unceasingly rhythmic
Rhythm is Glover’s genius. He avoids choreographic intricacy, seemingly
standing still amid rapid syncopations produced by straightforward shuffles, flaps,
and stamps. It is in his unconventional laying of these steps onto familiar musical
meters in infinitesimal subdivisions and brain-busting polyrhythms that the tapper
maintains both untouchable virtuosity and neighborly accessibility.
It’s even better with friends. Alongside Marshall Davis, Jr. and Jeffry Foote,
Glover forms an incorruptible membrane of rhythmic patterning, the spaces through
which corresponding musical selections freely seep. Two will ground down to hold
up a soloist, running the gamut of articulations from sprawling saxophone
phraseology to the wild freedom of the timbales. Together, they expand our capacity
to trust in the eventual resynchronization of long forays into interlocking
Still, even tasteful virtuosity does not a storyteller make. Despite
communicative potency in Glover’s jazz approach to tap, he sits dramaturgically in
limbo between its traditional use as theatrical enhancement, and the potential for
the form to truly speak.
In his preshow, Glover explains the show’s intent to put on and remove
masks. Baroque costuming scattered throughout the set anticipates anti-colonial
takes on appropriation, exoticism, and minstrelsy. We sort of get it at the beginning;
dense foot patterns not only fill but seem to pry open the spaces within a collection
of accordion solos, many of which utilizes hemiolas, among other European
Then costumes suddenly shed, music shifts to R & B and we lose that
established reciprocal gap filling as selections become more customarily
syncopated. Masks proceed to go un-dealt with, from a punchline pair of light-up
sneakers to actually dressing the one white performer in momentary blackface.
Additionally confounding is the inclusion of four women and one periodic
man on whom the tappers rely for breaks and sex appeal. They are competent jazz
dancers but proportionally hold no candle to their hooved counterparts. Taking no
cues from what made the tapping so successful, they redundantly dance on beat and,
overlooking the inherent theatricality of pure dance, cast jazz as decoratively female
while tap asserts itself as shamelessly male.
When contribution to timely conversation carelessly rests on some assumed
correctness, the participants actually doing the work must work all the harder to
steer the conversation back on track. An attempted subversion of racial status quo
dissolved into a celebration of patriarchal heteronormativity, when all Glover had
to do to was move his feet.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews