Savion Glover, Joyce Theatre, New York – review

In ‘Stepz’, the tap-dance maestro expatiates wittily and wisely on an eclectic variety of music

Marshall Davis Jr, left, and Savion Glover in 'Stepz'

Savion Glover’s got a brand new bag – or rather, since the 39-year-old star is all about roots, a venerable old bag that he has refurbished. After the opening salvo of this musically rangy but otherwise tight 100-minute show, double-sided staircases like the ones Bojangles danced up and down were unveiled. Hence the show’s name: Stepz.

Each wide, squat stair has its own timbre. So when Glover and partner Marshall Davis Jr tripped up one side and down the other on twin staircases set side by side – winging and toeing all the way – they were playing scales. The Mission: Impossible theme, with its thrilling vibe of chase, added another layer of wit. Likewise, to Benny Goodman’s swinging clarinet, Ayodele Casel, Sarah Savelli and Robyn Watson bopped up and down the stairs. (Mainly consigned to unison parts, these excellent dancers completed the ensemble.)

Most of the 12 numbers did not use the stairs, in fact. But they all expatiated wittily and wisely on their given music, whether Shostakovich, Stevie Wonder or jazz – warm, cool, mambo-fied or bent towards hip-hop.

Glover even managed to make dignified sense of that maudlin 1970s hit “Mr Bojangles”. In a double tribute to Bill Robinson (aka Bojangles) and the late Gregory Hines – who played the title role opposite Glover’s young upstart in the 2001 TV biopic Bojangles – the hoofer quieted and slowed his beats for an understated “old soft shoe” that included signature Hines moves. Loping along the perimeter of the elevated wood stage and lingering in a lunge with toe tapping behind, Glover mixed playfulness and sensuality. It seems that when the music keeps shifting ground and he is with friends, music-making and dancing stop being at odds. His body takes on the music’s grace.

Still, it is his musical response, particularly to his jazz peers, that continues to astound. To Coltrane’s “Miles’ Mode”, Glover did not simply add beats, he created a whole parallel track. He discovered melody and harmony in texture, timbre and the density or spaciness of notes. On opening night, the two compositions wove in and out of one another, paid each other compliments, and went their own way.

Until July 6, www.joyce.org

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