Thursday, May 28, 2015

Glover's tap show is short on feet

No victory snatched by Savion Glover's lack of visible feet on remote stage at Academy of Music.

Glover's tap show is short on feet


Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 3:01 AM

Tap dance is an intimate art form, creating rhythms that surround the performer and keep the audience following the feet and body in motion. The world premiere of virtuosic tapper Savion Glover's Dance Space at the Academy of Music Saturday night gave us tap-generated percussion for about 45 minutes and visible dance for only about 15 minutes more. But by then an awful lot of audience members had fled, never having gotten to see Glover's feet.

The piece, commissioned for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, opened in shadowy darkness, with fiber-optic stars on the backdrop and on a front scrim that cut the stage in half horizontally. Seeming to float behind it was a pedestal-like space with amplifiers miked to the dance board on which he would tap.

For many minutes we could neither see nor hear Glover; I assume he was spiritually communing with the board, waiting for it to tell him where and when to begin. He hung toward the back of it, hunched over and seen by the parquet audience only from the knees up. He was so remote he could have been an impostor - except no other tapper alive could have fired off his semiautomatic staccato.

A slightly raked stage would have revealed his rapid-fire pedal weapons, but they only came into view once he drew closer to the audience, about a half-hour into the hour-plus tour de force. Even then, he made no effort to connect with us, remaining in a zone of his own, seeming to rely on his subtly changing beats to hold our attention. He developed little contrast and no tension, keeping his beats diffused and attenuated.

Glover's mentor, the late Gregory Hines, coined the term improvography (cited in the program notes), and the ghostly voice-over of his tap raison d'etre - "I try to express myself when I'm dancing in contemporary rhythms instead of 4/4 time" - near the piece's end was as oddly out of place as the trite space-agey techno chords interspersed with Glover's pulse sequences.

With the festival's time travel theme, this work was supposed to "draw people closer to a connection with the early universe." Instead it seemed more like the kind of eternity I felt the last time I had an MRI, but it was only resonant, and not very imagistic - more polarizing than magnetic.


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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