It is easy to claim Savion Glover as the best tap-dancer of his generation. Who else is there?
He was a child prodigy and an exciting Broadway performer, debuting on Broadway at age 10 in “The Tapdance Kid,” nominated for a Tony at age 16 for “Black and Blue.” At 19, he played Young Jelly in “Jelly’s Last Jam,” and at 22 won a Tony for “Bring In ‘Da Noise, Bring In ‘Da Funk,” which he both choreographed and starred in.
Broadway seemed to be the place where Glover would thrive: Tap-dancing, an American art derived from both traditional Irish and African dance forms, remains the staple of Broadway musicals. Broadway also seemed to be the place he would eventually transform.
But the man who made tap dancing hip, a part of hip-hop, hasn’t been on Broadway since “’Da Funk” ended 14 years ago.
At age 39, he tours the country as a solo artist or with a dance troupe. “Savion Glover’s STePz,” which runs through July 6, marks his tenth year at the Joyce.
Together with four other dancers — Marshall Davis Jr., Ayodele Casel, Sarah Savelli and Robyn Watson – Glover taps to jazz, pop and even classical recorded music, providing both a visual and a percussive accompaniment. The range of music is wide and playful – Miles Davis; Stevie Wonder; Shostakovich; “Mr. Bojangles” sung by Sammy Davis Jr.; the theme song for “Mission Impossible” – and the tap is undeniably virtuosic. But Glover has turned tap from a popular entertainment into a high art form for aficionados.
When Glover first charges onto the stage, even his hair seems in mid-flight. But the pleasures that follow are subtler, nuanced, stripped of context and of the elements one normally associates with a show. The only set is a couple of little staircases; the performers dress in what looks like street clothes. This is dance, not theater, so there’s no plot, but the dancers don’t even talk to one another, rarely look at one another, barely acknowledge one another. I’m not saying they’re grim; there is clear joy written on their faces and in their movement. But even in Glover’s duet with Ayodele Casel, the performers never even touch each other. Are Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers turning over – elegantly, cheek-to-cheek – in their graves?
No, of course not. Glover is a star. But he’s a star like Miles Davis, as if he’s saying: Here’s what I do; love it…if you want.