Saturday, June 30, 2012

Out and About: Events: Savion Glover

Le hasard fait bien les choses. Fate does things well. It’s one of many French sayings I’ve learned over the years, and one heard often.
     Several of my Ann Arbor French-speaking friends have been working to bring Ionesco’s play Rhinocéros to the Michigan university town. And they’ve worked well, because it’s scheduled to play the Power Center in October. The production comes from the prestigious Théâtre de la Ville, which belongs to the city of Paris. It will be touring Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and... Ann Arbor!
     One of them - my French-speaking friends, not a rhinoceros - was in Paris a couple of weeks ago and asked me to accompany her to the theater to meet with its Administrator Michael Chase to discuss what we could do during their stay to make it more pleasant. And that’s how it all started.
     Being a gentleman, Michael offered both of us tickets for that night’s show. I couldn’t go, so he offered me a choice of one of two rainchecks. As my daughter was arriving shortly from America, and as one of her pastimes is dancing, I opted for the Savion Glover show.
     In spite of all the posters gracing all the hallways of the métro. I never would have gone to that show without this series of coincidences: the Rhinocéros production, the visit of my friend, the meeting with Michael, the arrival of my daughter who used to dance. But boy, am I glad I did. Le hasard fait bien les choses.

Savion Glover was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1973. By age 4, he started drumming lessons, probably having driven his mother nuts by borrowing her pots and pans to bang on. He evidently had a thing about rhythm. By age 9, he was at the Broadway Dance Center, by age 11 he had the starring role in The Tap Dance Kid on Broadway, and by age 15 his performance in Black and Blue got him nominated for a Tony Award. If that isn’t a meteoric career, then I don’t know what is!
     This show - Solo in Time - is based on a fascinating connection that had never occurred to me but which is totally logical when you consider it. Glover linked traditional tap dancing with flamenco, which is said to have had its origin in India and traveled west with the native nomads we now call gypsies, through North Africa and into Spain, where it has attained cult status and become a national symbol. If you think about it, there is little difference between a tap dancer's shoes and the staccato heels of a flamenco dancer.  Or as Glover put it himself in the program notes, "I wanted to explore the rhythmic percussion of a style of dance which implies a history of percussion parallel to that of the Hooferz tradition."  And by Hooferz, he means Jimmy Slyde, Lon Chaney, Bernard Manners, George Hillman, Buster Brown, Steve Sondos and Chuck Green.

In the first number, Glover came out onto a stage bereft of anything but some amps and three square platforms laid out so they touched, with one in back and two in front. In spite of the excellent seats Michael had graced us with, I couldn’t tell what they were made of but it looked like there might be two different types of wood: one for edging and one for the middle part. That’s of interest only because of the myriad different sounds he managed to get out of those platforms. (It reminded me of a scene in Tap where a young Gregory Hines was told to listen to the sounds around him, for inspiration.) Glover’s years of drum lessons certainly transferred to his feet, and he played those platforms exactly as if they were a drum kit, starting out soft and slow on the back one alone, then crescendoing into using all three of them. At the end, he just hopped off and the solo was ended. As simple as that.
     And that was the tone for all he did that night: simple... but unbelievable. No one’s feet should be able to move that fast!
     After the first number, Glover was joined by two flamenco guitarists. They played and sang, and Glover danced. They did two numbers like that. At times the tap dancing was reminiscent of flamenco "licks", at others it was traditional hoofing and at yet others it was pure invention. The thing that struck me as kind of "odd man out" was the arm movements. Flamenco is always very controlled, with arms close to the body, moving minimally. In tap dancing, the arms... well, they kind of flail, working as a necessary counterweight for the body shifting around as it must to make those toe-heel-toe-heel sounds. And Glover was aware of it, because at one point he mimed the flamenco arm poses, a grin on his face.
     That grin was there through most of the show, proving that he loves what he does. It was especially visible after the first flamenco pieces when he was joined unobtrusively on stage by a second dancer who just ambled out and started up. That was Marshall Davis Jr. and the two of them played off of each other as tap dance duets are wont to do, each trying to segue off the other, and sometimes out-wow the other. It lasted until I didn’t know how they could even breathe any more, and then Davis just hopped off his platform and ambled off stage. How much more low-key can you get, especially in comparison to the dazzling-ness they’d just performed!
     My daughter and I had made restaurant reservations around the corner for after the show, based on the estimated finale at 10 pm which the lady at the Will Call desk had given us. When finally Glover and company took their bows after more flamenco tap numbers, we looked at each other in surprise. That could not have been an hour and a half! But it was. It raced by for us, although there were a lot of rude French people who left after the first three numbers. I have no idea why. They obviously knew what the show would be. What part of "tap" or "flamenco" had they not understood? And how could they not have been impressed by the mastery of the dancer?
     As for us, we wouldn’t have left for love nor money. And surprisingly Glover did one encore, even though the house lights had come up already (probably because he had told the theater that was his stamina limit). The entire evening was magical and Glover’s genius for blending movement and sound provided food for conversation when we sat down at the restaurant.
     The people who left early have no idea what they missed!

Savion Glover
until July 6, 2012

Théâtre de la Ville
2 place du Châtelet
Paris 4è

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. I just woke from a nap and am almost tired again!