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January 28, 2014

Tap dancer Glover STePz in the right direction at Harris Theater

Savion Glover, a dancer considered by many to be the best tapper alive today, brought the stage at Harris Theater to life Friday with a one-night-only show-stopping performance of his newest project, STePz. Encompassing the serious, humorous, and joyful in one glorious two-hour journey over amplified floors and stairs, STePz was a magical, insightful experience and a lesson in the constantly evolving identity of art.

Directed and choreographed by Glover, the show featured him along with a tight ensemble of other talented dancers: Marshall Davis, Jr. and a group known as 3CW (3 Controversial Women), which includes Robyn Watson, Ayodele Casel, and Sarah Savelli. Glover is the Tony Award–winning choreographer of a Broadway production that he also starred in, Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk. He has also been involved in several films, perhaps most memorably to younger generations as the dancer behind the 2006 animated Warner Brothers film Happy Feet and its sequel.

The show opened with a statement: Glover’s impressive, lengthy, and dramatic opening sequence. He showed the audience a man possessed by his art form as he hovered above the stage, feet touching down in forceful but brief connections with a ground he didn’t quite belong to. His feet were moving so quickly and accurately beneath him that he almost seemed to stand still. The music was extraneous to his wild ability to fill a whole stage with merely his feet. This was the only way to be properly introduced to tap dancing through the eyes of Savion Glover.

From there the show progressed through more traditional styles and techniques of tap, African rhythm–infused numbers, 007-inspired duets of fearlessness on staircases, quieter bluesy dances, an acoustic number, and even a comedic parody of a ballet. The first act found a balance of group, duet, and solo numbers. It transitioned smoothly through different moods of lighting and music and choreographed and improvised steps. And throughout it all, despite the dancer’s typically neutral expressions, there was an inexplicable yet wonderful sense of joy.

Glover’s choreography, much like his own dancing, found an incredible versatility in the sound, tone, and warmth of individual movements, creating intricate, unique rhythms. The variety of sounds turned the dancers into wild percussionists. This was especially notable in the aerobic duets between Glover and Davis as they leapt, slid, and stomped all over the stairs and floor alike—half the time seeming to communicate through their feet. The two men laughed together as they danced. They beamed and gleamed with sweat and never once paused to take a breath.

The second act of the show was, simply stated, beautiful. It was an exuberant celebration of dance, music, rhythms, and life. It was brought to a poignant climax as Sammy Davis, Jr.’s version of “Mr. Bojangles” filled the theater and Glover danced a slow and sentimental tribute. Sometimes he was the old man, made wise by life, who would “dance for you in worn-out shoes,” and sometimes he simply danced, joyful and grateful, for all of the great men who came before him, mentored him, and loved it too.

STePz was a wildly entertaining show that gave new life to the concepts of tap dancing and rhythm. It highlighted the versatility of a legendary dancer and choreographer who can switch from highly isolated, technical movements to intriguing spin-offs of Broadway-style tap. It was a jubilant celebration of life told through amazing human ability. Without ever asking to be seen as profound, Glover’s show slowly but surely earned the right to settle into the audience’s mind and stick with it long after it rose in a standing ovation and long after it braved the windy streets outside. There was just something magnificent about watching a man so incredibly, impossibly lost in his art.

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