Tap-dancing visionary Glover electrifies audience at Lebanon

by John Kim | 4/18/05 5:00am

Tap-dancing legend Gregory Hines once said, "There is Savion Glover, and then there are the rest of us." Best known for his Tony-winning work on the 1996 Broadway hit "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk," Glover has been wowing audiences since he was 12 and is indeed considered by many to be the greatest tap dancer of all-time.

On Thursday, April 14, I braved the townies and made the trek to Lebanon, where Glover was bringing his brand of noise and funk to the otherwise sleepy New Hampshire town.

I admit I know nothing about tap dancing technique beyond people making cool sounds with their feet. As a New Yorker, I am ashamed to admit that I didn't even see "Noise" during its Broadway run, instead choosing to occupy myself with such high art as the Spice Girls and Weird Al Yankovic.

However, Glover has transcended the relative obscurity of his art form to become a superstar. You don't have to know anything about the cello to know Yo-Yo Ma, and even the strictest vegan knows the name of Kobayashi, hot dog eater extraordinaire. Likewise, if you know one thing about tap dancing, you know the name of Savion Glover.

The performance started with Andy McCloud playing a simple line on the double bass, building suspense until the familiar sound of tap shoes echoed throughout the auditorium and Glover emerged from stage right. For almost the entirety of the first setpiece, Glover's back was to the audience, lending the proceedings an air of mystery.

The relatively small confines of the Lebanon Opera House served Glover well as the locale and the music combined to give off the intimate feel of a seedy jazz club. It seemed like he was just jamming along with a couple of his friends, as if he didn't even notice the 800 people in the audience.

Soon, McCloud began to use the double bass as a makeshift bongo drum and Brian Grice joined in on actual drums, resulting in the most unique use of percussion since Ricky Ricardo tapped lovely rhythms on his wife's ass. Tommy James on piano and Patience Higgins on sax followed. What had started off as a slow, steady beat quickly turned into an explosion of rhythm.

Glover is in complete command of his craft. Particularly amazing is the way he makes subtle changes in his rhythms unperceived by the audience until suddenly, he's produced a different rhythm altogether without missing a single beat.

The man's feet move faster than what seems humanly possible. While mostly showing restraint, there were times throughout the show when he indulged the crowd by simply going nuts, eliciting wild applause.

Chandler Bing once said, "His legs flail about as if independent from his body!" True, he was referring to Michael Flatley, lord of the dance, but the quote is still apt. Glover's dancing is almost animalistic, and though his feet are the model of purpose and coordination, his upper body does in fact "flail about" as if it were servile to those magical feet. There were times during the show when one thought he might actually fall, but this controlled chaos made him that much more riveting.

When Glover finally engaged the audience, he revealed a disarmingly soft-spoken voice, which he then used to croon a little jazz ditty. While somewhat off-key (though not any worse than Constantine butchering rock standards on "American Idol"), Glover was nonetheless impressive in vocally providing his own rhythm.

A particular highlight was the interplay between dancer and pianist as Glover would tap out a rhythm and James would follow by playing that same rhythm on the ivories.

Another number featured a light streaming from the floor, giving Glover a Messiah-like glow. One could have looked up and seen his giant shadow dancing on the ceiling, an effect that made him seem larger-than-life.

Glover kicked off the second half with a number that eschewed the jazz of the first, adopting a hip-hop influence instead. The segment featured the Chapter IV dance troupe, with Maurice Chestnut, Ashley DeForest, Cartier Williams and Glover himself, and the four were impressive in a piece that was lively but lacked the rawness that made the first half so emotionally draining.

One particularly awesome effect occurred when the lights in the auditorium went off and only the lights on the dancers' tap shoes were clearly visible. At that point, you realized just how ridiculous Glover's footwork actually was, akin to the relentless flapping of a hummingbird's wings.

Glover concluded with a slinky, feel-good number that featured both the band and the dance troupe. Groovy and sexy, it capped an amazing evening and sent the audience home wanting to dance the night away themselves.

It's been a long time since the heyday of tap dancing. Sammy Davis Jr. is now best known as "the black guy in the Rat Pack," and Jimmy Slyde is likely to be mistaken as the guitarist for Led Zeppelin. It may be unrealistic to expect that the art of the soft shoe will ever regain its former prominence, but whether or not anyone can carry on the legacy of the former greats, Savion Glover is damn well going to try.