By Lynn Colburn Shapiro
Three sets of stairs framed the performing space for "STePz," Savion Glover's Harris Theater debut, and provided both the staging ground and the metaphor for the evening's most exciting work, which utilized stairs as a keyboard instrument Glover played upon with the virtuosity of a concert pianist.
A self-styled "hoofer," as opposed to a "tapper," Glover is all about feet and the musical intricacies of time, rhythm, and tone they can create. "STePz" is also about the equal instrumental partnership of feet with the wail of jazz trumpets, the croon of a sax, and the infectious energy of syncopated drums. Improvisational jazz informs much of Glover's concept, coupling with recorded music of jazz musicians such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. Choreographed segments carried their weight as well in group work equivalent to the big band sound, to the music of Benny Goodman, Stevie Wonder, and the "Mission Impossible" theme song.
Forget the visual spectacle of conventional "Broadway" style theatrical tapping for a moment, and imagine the intimacy of a jazz nightclub where music ascends the heights of the human condition to deliver both performers and audience to another level of being. Upper body movement of torso, arms, shoulders and head is minimal and exists only as ripples of after-effect from the prodigious work of the feet--the sheer velocity of Glover's foot vibrations boggles the mind. Stillness in the upper body, his eyes cast inward, in fact underscores the intensity and totality of his concentration and the emotional transformation he achieves, reminiscent at times of a trance-like state.
Interaction between performers, in this case Marshall Davis, Jr. and "3CW" 3 Controversial Women (Robyn Watson, Ayodele Casel, and Sarah Savelli), parallels that of jazz musicians: spontaneous, unrehearsed responses in service of music-making. And sound is king, whatever the body has to do to achieve it.
Except for the stairs. Here, in his most spectacular manifestation of music-making by feet--ironically the only a cappella piece on the program--Glover achieved a stunning integration of sound, movement, and visual spectacle that activated every corpuscle of his body. Daring combined with technical brilliance to create a hold-onto-your-seats excitement between Glover and Davis as they scaled, leaped off, and ascended adjacent stairways in every conceivable manner, all the while creating the most nuanced patterns of rhythm and tone in tap dialogue and animated response to each other.
The highly-amplified center platform and stair sets accentuated Glover's predilection for the slap and stomp of a heavier foot, and yet in the segment called "STEPZ," his tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson set to Sammy Davis Jr.'s rendition of "Mr. Bojangles," he found a poignance that expanded into full-body expression and a gentleness of floor contact. Acoustic balance between recorded music and the amplified tap dancing was at times problematic, especially in "Miles Mode," where the subtlety of Glover's interaction with Coltrane's saxophone was somewhat obscured by the over-amplification of the floor surface. But Glover's many flights of inspired fantasy and intoxicating arpeggios of tap rhythms cascading up and down the steps made it easy to overlook any minor discrepancies, and left the audience enlivened and delighted by the rich contrapuntal world of Savion's miraculous feet.
Reviewed by Lynn Colburn Shapiro on 01/30/2014 at 10:16 AM