Savion Glover’s feet are tapping at high speed, sharing the news breathlessly. It’s always good news when this singular performer launches into a dance, and during Glover’s appearance in “Chronology of a Hoofer” at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, Oct. 8, the atmosphere remains charged and upbeat.
In this show, however, Glover prefers to talk. The 42-year-old dancer has decided to pause mid-stream and look back on his life, contemplating his theatrical biography. But first he lets his feet introduce him. They change the subject when he switches rhythms, and repeat themselves to make a point. They can be loud, slamming the floor and startling even those who thought they were paying attention. But sometimes his feet tease us by whispering, slyly sharing a confidence they know we’ll lean forward to hear.
Glover dances a cappella in this delightful segment, confining himself to a small platform center-stage, while a pair of young musicians await his orders and a group of dance students sprawl on the floor to his side. NJPAC’s Victoria Theater is perfect for an intimate show like “Chronology,” in which the star speaks casually and banters with the students, making everyone feel at ease. Recalling his beginnings, this Newark native is as humble as a man can be while describing how he catapulted to greatness. NJPAC’s official “Dance Ambassador” wants to be your friend in high places — the name you love to drop. He’s the arts center’s secret weapon.
As we learn, it all started on the bus that young Savion and his mother, jazz vocalist Yvette Glover, used to ride from their home to Newark’s Penn Station, an odyssey that didn’t end when they arrived in Manhattan. At the late Frank Hatchett’s dance studio, this curious child with a passion for drumming first laid eyes on Lon Chaney, a former boxer who had developed a strikingly original dance style. Tap lessons followed, and so did kismet. Within a few years, Glover became a precocious sensation in the Broadway musical, “The Tap Dance Kid.” Then the teenager (and his mother) were on their way to Paris with the cast of “Black and Blue,” where he danced alongside his mentor, Chaney, and became pals with the likes of Bunny Briggs, Fayard Nicholas, Jimmy Slyde and Dianne Walker.
It began to dawn on Glover that he was in love with tap dancing, and that it loved him back. It was while performing in “Black and Blue,” he says, that he discovered “how vibration and sound were able to affect the mind, the soul and the spirit.”
During “Chronology of a Hoofer,” Glover tells these stories and many more, while a slide-show of publicity photos flashes on a screen. He touches all the highlights and never fails to acknowledge the influence of Gregory Hines, whose heavy-soled style he adopted, and the impact of the veteran hoofers who, when they weren’t trading steps, traded off-color jokes on the set of the 1989 movie “Tap.”
Glover’s connections with these old-timers were not only artistic but also deeply personal, and he continues to mourn their passing. Although the tap dance scene is full of vibrant personalities, he has not found another community that inspires him the way they did. He remains forever an acolyte, surrounded by photos of the masters.
Perhaps this is why, in telling his own story, Glover emphasizes the Broadway productions and the feature films, giving short shrift to the productions he created for his own pick-up companies. He doesn’t give himself enough credit. Ever since Glover made his choreographic debut in “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk,” he has done more than anyone to create a new theatrical context for tap. Discarding the stereotypes he satirized in Spike Lee’s film “Bamboozled” and consistently inventing new frameworks for his amazing artistry, Glover has danced to Gospel music (“Visions of a Bible”); Vivaldi and Shostakovich (“Classical Savion”); and to the music of John Coltrane. We have had Christmas shows (“Savion Glover’s Dance HoLiDaY SPeCTaCULaR”); discreet political commentary when he interpreted a jazz arrangement of “Stars and Stripes Forever”; extraordinary partnerships with musicians like McCoy Tyner and Bobby McFerrin; excursions into modern dance and flamenco; spiritual tripping (“OM”); and historical tributes with a breezy, contemporary style (“STePz”).
For Glover’s admirers, each of those touring shows offered a fresh encounter with genius, and a way to connect with his sophisticated, percussive sound.
Toward the end of “Chronology of a Hoofer,” the young musicians get a chance to jam, and Glover joins them on the traps. Responding to a question from the audience, he jokes that he has given up performing acrobatic moves. Yet when the curtain comes down, he’s dancing again, his skills undimmed, an unquenchable flood of rhythm passing through him.
Glover will dance in “Classical Savion” at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m.; visit countbasietheatre.org.