With the snows of yesteryear nowhere in sight, some people in the Northeast may need a little extra help getting into the mood for the holidays. Fortunately, even the grumpiest elf can shake out the cramps by spending an hour or so in the delightful company of tapper Savion Glover and a band called Dance Candy. Everyone will feel like ho-ho-ho-ing at the conclusion of this “Dance HoLiDaY SPeCTaCULaR,” produced by Glover’s HooFeRzCLuB and arriving at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood on Saturday.
This program rings the usual Christmas bells and some less typical ones (like Chris Brown’s “This Christmas”), but does it so ingeniously and with such marvelous artistry that you’ll feel as if you’ve never heard your favorite holiday tunes before. The star himself practically bursts with joy, frisking and diving into the music that he shares with the band, a vocalist and four other dancers. First, however, there’s a warm-up act.
When the “SPeCTaCULaR” opened on Nov. 28 at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, jazz pianist Rio Clemente was on hand to put listeners in a sentimental mood. Seated at his keyboard behind a stand of poinsettias and wearing a colorful jacket that sparkled like a digital display, Clemente strung together a honky-tonk version of “Sleigh Ride” and a tinkling riff on “Let It Snow.” Improvising freely, he milked the teardrops out of “Silver Bells”; swung through “Go Tell It on the Mountain” like a one-man gospel choir; and offered us a chance to sing along to “White Christmas” before he shambled offstage with a friendly wave.
The crowd had come to see Glover, though, and during the interval you could practically hear the audience murmuring another Christmas lyric: “We won’t go until we get some.”
The star entered casually, hopping onto a wide, miked platform after Dance Candy had already made it through a few verses of “My Favorite Things.” To the shimmering sounds of the ensemble, and Samantha Reed’s warm voice — juicy with appetite for “schnitzel with noodles” — Glover added the clip-clop of a horse-drawn sleigh. His feet blurred, executing amazing trills that seemed to chatter with cold; and he stopped to make a sudden retort that suggested icicles snapping. In an instant, he produced the winter landscape of our dreams.
As Glover’s solo evolved, he took a walk, clattering around the stage, or he stayed in place to drive home a point, arms reaching out to gather energy. Slow rhythms drew out his incomparable grace and lyricism, while faster ones sent him skipping lightly through space. After a long, musical excursion, he brought us back to “My Favorite Things.”
It was time to meet the other dancers, including Glover’s frequent collaborator Marshall Davis Jr. and the ladies: Karissa Royster, lightning-fast Sarah Savelli and Robyn Watson. Though each had a showcase, their solos tended to meander. These sidekicks were most impressive working as a team, either dancing in brilliantly polished unison or stomping out the accents in a tongue-in-cheek, percussive version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
The show’s most imaginative treatment of a Christmas song was yet to come, however, when Glover and Davis transformed “Jingle Bells” into an extraordinary, a cappella conversation in tap. Taking the song apart and playfully putting it back together, making a statement and then commenting on it, exchanging rhythms and opinions, they gave the audience a rare illustration of how the great classical composers sometimes worked — Shostakovich orchestrating “Tea for Two,” for instance, or Mozart composing variations on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman.”
Here was musical genius in the flesh. No one who has the chance to see this demonstration should miss it.
Nothing could top the exhilaration of this duet; and perhaps Glover felt he couldn’t leave without reminding us that, despite all the fun and games, the holidays have a spiritual core. The “Dance HoLiDaY SPeCTaCULaR” concluded in an atmosphere that felt contemplative, prophetic and as deep as a long winter’s night. As the star unfurled winding, seemingly endless streams of rhythm, Mark Ingraham blew repetitive notes on his horn that recalled the chanting of the sacred syllable “om” and Glover’s spiritual journey in his 2014 show called “OM.”
When the curtain descended, the music continued. Somewhere it’s still playing.
For tickets to Savion Glover’s “Dance HoLiDaY SPeCTaCULaR” at BergenPAC, on Dec. 12, visit bergenpac.org.
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