Any dance acolyte knows that “virtuoso” is the proper adjective to glue in front of the name Savion Glover. The prodigy of hoofing—distinguished from traditional tap by its heightened interest in improvisational riffs and its lowered interest in incorporating the body, focusing mainly on the feet—has a unique, incessant style. His tremolo is like syncopated lightning. His staccato sounds like a rattlesnake on amphetamines. Once he finds his groove he barely rests a fraction of a beat—and in the interim he seems be using his hands to snakecharm the beat out of the floor and into his shoes.
Apart from the footwork, there’s nothing fancy about Savion Glover’s Stepz. In billowing casual slacks and shirts, Glover and his crew deliver a laid-back evening-length medley of tunes by musical greats Glover has been in thrall to all his life. Prince’s funky pop, Stevie Wonder’s R&B-tinged soul, and John Coltrane’s spiritual jazz form the musical background for dance acts performed simply, on one amplified dance panel and three platforms, each supported by two sets of stairs.
The staircases are a resourceful tactic—a short flight of steps boosts the range of sounds available to a hoofer—but that’s not the primary reason Glover refers to them in the event’s title. On a mission to embrace tap history, he reintroduces staircase dancing in a tribute to the Nicholas Brothers’ inimitable duet in the 1943 film Stormy Weather.
It’s a nice thought, but Glover’s execution is so pared of wit and entertainment value that it brings to mind T.S. Eliot’s epigram “Great poets steal. Bad poets deface.” Classic tappers like the Nicholas Brothers and Fred Astaire always made it a priority to connect with their audiences. Glover barely looks at his.
Glover’s performance is pure tap dance. No fads, no frills, and no pretenses—to a fault. Glover says he approaches the dance like a musician would approach his instrument: “I consider myself more a musician who tap dances. We’re trying to interpret the rhythm.” He might never miss a beat, but he misses the mark set by the timeless entertainers he wants to honor.