A Festival of Rhythms
Alan M. Kriegsman
What is it about Savion Glover that makes it seem that his dancing is on another plane from almost anything else we currently—or in the past as well—have experienced? Not easy to answer in clear or non cliché terms. But the physical potency of his performing seems to sweep one into a vortex of visceral excitement that has no parallel elsewhere. And yet if you see him up close minutes after a two hour performance, he looks as fresh as a daisy and no more depleted than as if he were about to begin the program, which indeed, after a matinee, he will do again in a few hours.
He calls the program “Classical Savion,” as if to distinuinguish this manifestation from others that might be labeled “Hip-hop Savion,” “Jazzy Savion,” “Impromptu Savion,” and so forth. But the truth of the matter is that Classical Savion is all those others rolled into one and then some: when he begins the program with what might be termed Baroque Savion, to a smorgasbord of Vivaldi motoric strings-cum-harpsichord, what we get is distinctly Savion Glover in the foreground; as soon as he starts tapping, the music itself changes character, because in the union it becomes Savion Classical, not the other way around. The potency and urgency of his dance “voice” sweeps all before it, and puts his personal artistic signature front and center for the whole of the performance—even, uncannily, when very briefly he is not on stage.
Rhythm is the fundamental basis of all music: you can have music without melody, without harmony, even without defined pitch, but you can’t have music devoid of rhythm. This makes masters of rhythm—drummers and tappers—the captains of the musical experience, and dancers like Glover—the few that can so be described—put us in mind of this time and time again. Classical Savion gave us a festival of rhythms in a musical terrain distinct from what this dancer has hitherto inhabited. The result was a cascade of novel experiences, Glover exposing sides of himself and his art that perhaps only this music could have drawn into view. That he made all this musical repertory swing as never before almost goes without saying, but this doesn’t diminish the thrill of the experience.
Part of the special excitement Glover brings to this music—he brings it to all music, but different styles evoke different strokes, so to speak—lies in the way he divines the inner heart of rhythms, and matches them with intricate patterns of his own invention that defy comprehension, given the speeds at which they fly by the eye and ear of the beholder. He seems to instinctively devise wonderfully matching patterns to every rhythmic subject he encounters, making it appear as if one rhythm—his—can actually magnify another—the music’s.
After Vivaldi and Piazzola and Bach and Bartok and Mendelssohn, the program ends up with jazz riffs and extrapolations on “The Stars & Stripes Forever (For Now),” as it is labeled and what it makes you realize is that the whole rest of the program was jazz as well—it’s really where Glover’s artistic impulses abide, in the freewheeling universe of jazz, where creativity can be given uninhibited rein. After all of this delirium, Glover introduces each and every member of his assisting ensemble—strings and harpsichord and drums and piano (fantastic piano by jazz combo director Tommy James!)—every single one by name, and then gives each the chance to radiate a bit on his or her own. His humanity and humility are complete.
I made a few notes on my program during the performance, and looking at them afterwards, what I first saw was: “Seeing is NOT believing—you cannot possibly believe your eyes because what they see is im-possible!” But that’s Savion—even at 31 still the wunderkind.
Photo by Len Irish, Dance Magazine
3, No. 4