On January 23rd, Savion Glover’s SoLe Sanctuary performance had its Page Auditorium audience abuzz before the show even started. And that’s not surprising.
As one of few living tap masters, Glover has been featured on television in shows ranging from Seasame Street to Dancing with the Stars. Glover has performed all over the world since his career began around 1985, and he is certainly no stranger to North Carolina audiences. SoLe Sanctuary brought the Duke audience something new; this show focused more on the physical practice of tap than on the form’s often performative nature, inviting the audience into a moving meditation.
In this work, Glover paid respect to his craft and to those who came before him. At Duke, Glover and his colleague, Marshall Davis Jr. tapped on a raised stage; above them hung photos of Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines and other legendary tappers, creating a living altar of sorts. Behind the raised stage, performer Kietaro Hosokawa meditated, heightening the widespread sense of calm onstage.
Glover began the performance with clasped hands and a downward gaze, dropping his heels and toes alternately and traveling in a circular pattern. As the hoofer picked up speed, those same small foot movements created a ripple effect through his lower legs and up through his knees. It was here that the audience first encountered Glover’s uncanny ability to maintain a sense of calm in his upper body while outputting a flurry of sound down below. And it was in those moments that audience members may have begun to wonder just how many beats per minute this tap master could muscle.
But no one was speedy enough to keep stats. When the bass dropped, Glover quickened his tapping, introducing scraping sounds and syncopation into his footwork with crisp precision. Glover’s meditative beats kept the audience hushed, especially when he began to tap one foot so fast that it seemed superhuman.
Auditory accompaniment during this part of the show layered heavenly “Ahh” sounds beneath a deep voice. Metered musings poured out of speakers in honey-like tones, warm and smooth with signature slowness. Glover kept the beat as the voice explained, “Tapping is like the rhythm of words…words overlap and repeat.” And for Glover, tapping is an extension of the soul.
This dancer’s ability to variate his volume and tone were undeniable as he performed both complicated combinations and basic beats, both solo and in unison with dancer Marshall Davis Jr. Throughout the evening, the two men played off of one another in a multitude of ways – one minute challenging each other in a dance battle of sorts and the next minute dancing in perfect unison. It was clear from his visible smile that Glover began to enjoy himself more thoroughly when joined by his colleague.
In this section, more showy material such as turns and wings elicited cheers from the crowd. There were also many solo moments, with a strong utilization of the sagittal plane of movement (upstage to downstage and vice versa) and a downward-facing V shape in the arms. As time progressed, the dancers began sweating through their clothing, creating a visual cue that this performance was a serious test of physical endurance…and of mental endurance, too.
SoLe Sanctuary, which was billed as 80 minutes with no intermission, stretched to 120 consecutive minutes. Though the audience certainly enjoyed watching the show, its visual appeal lagged more than once in what can perhaps be interpreted as improvisation gone overboard. Ultimately, though, the men made up for their long-windedness with their charisma and technical prowess.
At the evening’s end, the two men appeared to be in a Zen-like state. As audience members rose to their feet, the men embraced, bowed once and left the stage. I want to note here that Glover’s performance etiquette – both during and following the show – speak to his humility. As someone who watches a lot of live performances, I appreciate that Glover does not need extensive bows to confirm his excellence or success. Instead of presenting a show to members of his audience, Glover shares it with them. That alone truly makes a difference.
Have you seen Savion Glover perform? What was your experience like? Leave me a comment below and let me know!