A FEW FRIENDLY GHOSTS HELP OUT A MASTER OF TAP

 

By Gia Kourlas

Jun 2011 NY Times

 

The first time I met Savion Glover was during a rehearsal for an event that Bill Cosby was hosting at Lincoln Center in 2000. The scene onstage was making him tense — meaning that Mr. Glover had no desire to perform a mugging number in the manner of a “Cosby Show” episode — so eventually, without a word, we left. (I interviewed him in his car as we headed downtown.) Mr. Glover’s struggle was obvious: how to present tap, the art form, in a serious way?

 

There’s something significant about that occasion in relation to his latest production, “SoLe Sanctuary,” which opened at the Joyce Theater on Tuesday night. Mr. Glover has been presenting shows at the theater over the past few years, but this one is somewhat different: it’s barebones and pure, full of the kind of rhythmic innovation that trips down one path, splinters off in different directions and then sweeps back home. There’s no band, and the only other dancer is the excellent Marshall Davis Jr.

 

The set features poster-size photos of departed tap legends, including Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slyde and Sammy Davis Jr., which dangle from the ceiling as if they were spirits watching over the stage. At the back is an altar of red votives, and on the stage sits a pair of tap shoes, belonging to Mr. Glover but designed by Capezio with Mr. Hines.

 

There are a few unusual touches. An unidentified man wearing white (like Mr. Glover) meditates (silently) for the show’s duration. And it’s worth glancing over the fanciful program: direction and choreography of “SoLe Sanctuary” are credited to “Spirits Known.” Mr. Glover’s biography reads simply: “Censored. Praise Almighty God.”

 

But because the dancing is so unadulterated, the holier-than-thou atmosphere isn’t oppressive. At one point Mr. Glover calls out for “Resolution,” and what he means is the second track of John Coltrane’s spiritual album “A Love Supreme.” When the music starts, the performers tap in unison, but after the piano begins, Mr. Glover leaves the stage, re-entering with the saxophone.

 

At its core, this show is a deeper exploration of the idea of a dancer as an instrument, and after all these years Mr. Glover’s lean body, in silhouette, is as recognizable as an instrument. While his upper body wilts, and his arms seem to be along for the ride — imagine a man on a unicycle — his long lower legs temper the forceful patter of his feet with rubber-band dexterity. By the end of the evening his pants are several shades darker, soaked in sweat.

 

In “SoLe Sanctuary” Mr. Glover’s tap shoes are white, not red, but he is nearly done in by his nimble feet. Ghosts haunt the stage — names like Lon Chaney, Buster Brown, Charles (Honi) Coles and even Gil Scott-Heron are heard in a voice-over — and by the end, Mr. Glover’s body is something of a vessel. He is saying thank you in a sanctuary of his own making by doing what he does best: dancing.