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.