For Savion Glover, tap dance is much more than simply an entertaining art form — which with his gifted and rhythmically educated feet it unquestionably is.
For the former prodigy, now a mature artist of 39 and probably today’s best known living hoofer, tap is the visual and aural expression of his growth not only as an artist but also as a person.
Recalling that his youthful style was much more aggressive, Glover, a virtuoso of the rhythmic form of tap as well as a choreographer, actor and educator, described his current approach as more meditative, as going “beyond dance.”
Now married and the father of a son, he reflected: “I’m now at a point in recent years where I’ve changed the way I live and speak and it comes out in the way I dance, in my spirituality. I’m an expressionist.”
Speaking by phone from his home state of New Jersey about his Jan. 20 performance at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax, Glover was in a manifestly philosophical mood. His introspection fits with the framework for his show, “SoLe Sanctuary” — an extremely personal homage to all the legendary hoofers who preceded and directly and indirectly influenced him.
“Some I had the wonderful experience of getting to know, getting to love,” he said. “Everything I do, basically, is a dedication to them. It’s my saying thank you to them. I continue to realize the gift, understand the gift and be thankful for the gift.”
Featuring Glover with fellow rhythmic tap artist Marshall Davis Jr., “SoLe Sanctuary” pays tribute to such tap dance legends and innovators as Steve Condos, LaVaughn Robinson, Charles “Chuck” Green, Jimmy Slyde, Lon Chaney (not the legendary actor), Sammy Davis Jr., and Glover’s own teacher and mentor, Gregory Hines.
“I am happy to have created a piece to pay homage to these cats,” Glover said, noting that it is the first time he is performing works that speak directly to that recognition.
Of his highly personal work, Glover, who made his Broadway debut as a 10-year-old in “The Tap Dance Kid,” further explained: “I was in love with these men beyond dance. These men were father figures, grandfather figures to me, teachers of life, teachers of manhood.”
Set up as a “meditation,” he added, “We dance to them; we dance for them; we dance with them.”
In addition to paying homage through pure rhythmic tap, Glover noted that while he himself does not speak directly to the audience, the production will feature the presence of these legends through a backdrop of projected pictures and voice-over tracks.
After its 2011 premiere at the Joyce Theatre in New York City, The New York Times described “SoLe Sanctuary” as “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 … at its core, this show is a deeper exploration of the idea of a dancer as an instrument.”
Like many legendary hoofers — rhythmic tap dancers who concentrate on footwork without much arm or above-the-waist body movement — Glover first began as a drummer, studying as a young child at the Newark Community School of the Arts in the city where he was born, grew up and still is very much connected.
Describing drumming and tap as a “tight relationship,” Glover suggested that inside every drummer is a dancer. His own approach, he said, like a percussionist, is to “concentrate on the sound of dance … focus on the musicality.”
He explained: “Sometimes the visuals of dance [like Broadway-style tap’s jazz arms and other upper-body flourishes] can be distracting.”
“SoLe Sanctuary,” on the contrary, is an exemplar of the improvisational, rhythmic tap genre. “It’s a learning experience for me nightly,” Glover said of dancing with partner Marshall Davis Jr., a student of tap pioneer Steve Condos. “We feed off each other’s musicality.”
Theater critic John Lahr, in his book “Light Fantastic: Adventures in Theatre,” marveled: “Watching Glover build and organize the intricate wave of rhythms is like observing a mathematical equation being set up and factored out.”
Although a majority of hoofers have been and are African-American, Glover, for whom dance is at heart storytelling, said tap as an art form transcends stereotypes. Its roots, he suggested, are not only African but more importantly human.
“I’m universal; my soul is universal,” he said. And when he dances, although “definitely influenced by these earlier men and women of dance,” his focus is on “the musicality of dance, which has no color, or cultural boundaries.”
Glover is widely credited with rejuvenating the art of tap and bringing it back into the mainstream.
After first capturing the public’s attention in “The Tap Dance Kid” in 1985, he went on to be nominated at age 15 for a Tony Award in 1989 for his performance in “Black and Blue,” which celebrated the talents of black musicians, singers and dancers. After starring in 1992 in “Jelly’s Last Jam,” co-choreographed by Hines, Glover garnered rave reviews in 1996 for “Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk,” which earned him Tony Awards for Best Choreographer and Best Actor in a Musical.
His long list of credits also includes film appearances in “Tap,” which starred a host of legendary hoofers, including Hines and Sammy Davis Jr., and “Bamboozled,” by Spike Lee.
Glover also choreographed the Academy Award-winning computer-animated film “Happy Feet,” which starred tap-dancing penguins. Using motion-capture technology, its dance scenes were acted out by human dancers.
A Sesame Street regular between 1990 and 1995, a distinctively tapping Glover also portrayed Father Time for Barbra Streisand’s live (and recorded) 1999 Millennium New Year’s Eve concert, “Timeless.”
Read a few of his many accolades, Glover shrugged them off, including Hines’ statement describing him as “possibly the best tap dancer that ever lived.”
He said, “In my opinion the best ones came before us. I’m just carrying on these traditions. … They laid the foundations; they made possible what we do.”
Glover himself, for the last four years, has been building on that foundation at his HooFeRzCLuB School for Tap in Newark.
Bringing him full circle, HooFeRzCLuB is located in the same building that formerly housed the Newark Community School of the Arts, where he learned to play drums as the youngest person ever to receive a scholarship there.
“I’m happy for the opportunity to share with whomever comes there; I’m happy to see these young kids everyday,” he said.
“I want them to express themselves, to teach them the history of dance and about those who inspired me. … It’s not all about fame and Hollywood. I’m all about people and making each other better.”