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Savion Glover’s Gotta Tap

November 11, 2011

What are tap shoes, after all, if not a percussion instrument?

A combination of leather and laces, composite material and stainless steel soles and heels, tap shoes are no more than inert matter combined for a purpose. But put them in the hands—excuse me, on the feet—of the right performer, and the resulting manipulation of this unique “instrument” can be nothing short of brilliant.

Savion Glover

Dancer Savion Glover proved that repeatedly during his Nov. 10 performance at the Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW-Madison campus. The two-hour set blended recorded music and spoken word with the artistry of Glover and fellow performer Marshall Davis Jr. The pair tapped to a single, repetitive acoustic bass line and to the music of jazz great John Coltrane. Most often, however, they danced without audio accompaniment, and that’s when the music of the tap shoes shown the brightest.

Under the moniker The Last HooFeRz Standing, Glover and Davis performed an extended work entitled SoLe Sanctuary, a play on words that also referenced Glover’s apparent spirituality. (His program bio read simply: “Savion Glover (hoofer, father, husband) Praise Almighty God. Please enjoy the evening.”) Although the program listed 11 separate “movements,” the pair tapped virtually non-stop for the entire program, the energy never flagging and the creativity mounting with each passing minute.

One is tempted to think of tap dancers as well-suited novelty acts, a bamboo cane in one hand, straw boater in the other, tapping out a rhythm to popular tunes of the day. Not so with The Last HooFeRz, who appeared to combine tap’s tenacity with rhythmic interpretations rivaling anything modern dance has to offer. From his soft, almost sotto voce opening to near manic explosions of energy, Glover brought profound expression to his taps. Davis wasn’t far behind, moving every bit as fast as his partner and often matching him step for step.

To say the pair operated like musicians might be an understatement. At times Glover danced the lead, while Davis provided the rhythm track, keeping a steady beat and modicum of sound moving forward. Then they would switch, or emulate a call-and-repeat pattern. Sometimes they danced simultaneously, creating a thundering sound on the amplified dance platform on WUT’s stage, then drop back to a whisper.

By mid-show, Glover was clearly enjoying himself. He launched into an unamplified version of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” that almost prompted an audience sing-along, but most of the auditorium held back in fear of drowning out the moderately strong voice that already was competing the duo’s tap shoes. The one exception responded to the chorus—“It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day” —with “Oh yes it is!”

For all we know she may have been talking about the show, which prove to be the brightest performance to grace WUT’s boards during the entire 2011-2012 season.

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