Genre-Jumping Tap

Big dance names, headed by Savion Glover, bring their shows to Tucson

Savion Glover may well be the best tap dancer in America, but his tap is not like anybody else's.

Nine years ago, at the age of 23, Glover choreographed a rare tap narrative. The full-scale Broadway musical Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk recounted nothing less than the history of African Americans. The tale was told through tap, appropriately, since enslaved Africans on southern plantations created the dance form from the rhythms of their homelands. Glover starred in the show, and its explosive choreography won him a Tony.

Glover has also wedded tap with spoken-word performance and jazz, in the improvisational piece "If Trane Wuz Here," inspired by John Coltrane. He tapped his way through Spike Lee's 2000 movie Bamboozled, a biting satire in blackface about America's underlying racism.

"I want to give the audience what they want, but also something unexpected," Glover told USA Weekend dance writer Kenya Hunt in 2002.

Next week, Glover brings to Centennial Hall another unexpected bit of genre-jumping. (See below for a local modern dance concert this weekend.) His one-dancer show Classical Savion pairs the quintessential African-American dance form with some of the most beloved classical music of Europe.

Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Mozart's Divertimento in D Major, along with works by Dvorák, Bartók, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn, are on the program. For the finale, Glover switches back to the birthplace of tap, with the all-American Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa.

Even the onstage musicians are a mélange. Nine string musicians--plucking four violins, two violas, two cellos and bass--play the European music. But for the Sousa, they're joined by The Otherz, a combo of jazz musicians who do time on the piano, double bass, saxophone, flute and percussion.

The unusual new show has drawn at least one rave. Variety called it "dazzling," and exulted that "rarely is the dialogue between the two forms (music and movement) as intimate, as vigorously alive or as spontaneous as in Classical Savion."

Theodore Bale, dance critic for the Boston Herald, wrote that he approached the concert with trepidation, but came away bowled over by Glover's ability to use his dancer's body as a giant conductor's baton. Glover, he wrote, "conducted with heels and toes instead of two arms and a baton, a daring approach sure to upset musical purists." Elsewhere, the dancer was like a "metronome possessed by the devil."

Born in 1973, Glover grew up in the tough city of Newark, New Jersey, in a house crammed with an extended family of mother, brothers, aunt, cousin and grandmother. While he was still a child, he crossed the river into New York to study at Broadway Dance Center, and before long came to the attention of a Broadway choreographer. By age 10, he had made his Broadway debut, starring in The Tap Dance Kid. He danced in his first movie, Tap with Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr.

Glover has since danced on stages around the world, and won all manner of dance awards, from the Drama Desk to the Obie to the Fred Astaire. Dance magazine named him Choreographer of the Year in 1996. He's been a regular on Sesame Street, and shuffled-ball-stepped at the White House for President Clinton in Savion Glover's Stomp, Slide and Swing: In Performance at the White House for PBS. He's even danced on Monday Night Football.

His movement is "beautifully organic," his steps "unpredictable" and his footwork "fast and furious," critic Hunt wrote. "He manipulates his feet so it looks as if they have more movable joints than they actually do."

Halloween casts its orange glow on this weekend's No Frills Dance Happenin', ZUZI! Dance Company's biannual improvisational modern dance concert.

Twice a year at No Frills, local dancers and choreographers, from students to pros, present dances at all stages of development. Some are barely conceived, and some are fully formed. The fall show, corresponding almost precisely with the holiday of spooks and goblins, always has a humorously ghostly spirit.

This time around, a big name tops the bill. Charlotte Adams, a Tucsonan at heart who teaches at the University of Iowa, presents her choreography. A co-founder of the late Tucson troupe Tenth Street Danceworks, in recent years, Adams has hit the big time. She has several times staged her work in New York, deploying her Iowa company, Charlotte Adams and Dancers, across the boards at the Joyce Soho.

Also on the No Frills bill are the skilled dancers of NEW ARTiculations, along with ZUZI! and the Luna Llena Flamenco Ensemble. ZUZI's Many Limbs Youth Aerial Company makes an appearance on Friday night only.

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