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< A chat with SummerStage's Curator of Dance | Main | Robert Lyons, stronger than ever: The Ice Factory Turns 20 >

July 2, 2013

Savion Glover's STePz at the Joyce Theater

At first, it’s hard to tell if you’re smiling because you recognize the tunes, because the people in the seats surrounding you are delightfully mesmerized, or because the dancers assure you with glances and grins that they’re having fun because you’re having fun, but they’d be having a blast even if you weren’t. 
STePz, Savion Glover’s new show at the Joyce Theater, starts with frenetic energy. In its opening number, “Miles Mode,” we’re introduced to the show’s five hoofers – Glover, Marshall Davis Jr., and 3 Controversial Women (3CW), Ayodele Casel, Sarah Savelli, and Robyn Watson – through a series of high-energy solos and precisely choreographed group passages. The opening is a bit of a risk; the combination of the amplified platform and loud recorded music might strike some viewers as a bit jarring, not just because recorded music’s relationship to tap performance breeds some tension, but because the combination requires the audience to do a bit of work to parse out the sounds and follow the action.
Glover takes a chance in leading his audience through the intricacies of John Coltrane before letting them settle into some slower grooves and simpler lines. But the gamble pays off, and as the show unfolds and winds through Miles Davis, Shostakovich, and Stevie Wonder, it’s impossible not to grasp the satisfying physicality of musical motion and lose yourself in the momentum.
The saturation of sound works well with the production’s otherwise sparseness. Simple attire and the absence of props keep the focus on the movement of these five bodies through the musical tour. Subtle, artful light changes serve to highlight and enhance certain moods and movements without becoming overly conspicuous. But the show’s aesthetic simplicity doesn’t succumb to flatness. Instead it allows for moments that unexpectedly transport us, like when 3CW opens the second set with “Bugle Call Rag,” immersing us in a whole new scene with small changes of feel that leave plenty of room for imagination but don’t require it to feel complete.
There are other magical moments that benefit from the kind of vulnerable nakedness that Glover delivers with discretion. The penultimate number, Glover’s solo to “Mr. Bojangles,” is a quiet reference to tap’s minstrel history and charged with poignant melancholy. His duet with Davis, the only non-musically-tracked number of the show, during which the two utilize with impossible complexity two four-tiered platforms to articulate their rhythms, feels more like an intimate, lively conversation between friends than a performance.
What this ensemble does so well is strike a balance between the electric concentration channeled into their no-less-than-virtuosic steps and the looseness and ease that make every movement seem dynamic and unpredictable. There were several moments when the audience couldn’t hold their laudatory hollers and applause. The three-year-old in front of me couldn’t take her eyes off the stage. The 70-year-olds next to me were dancing in their seats. When “Sir Duke” closed the show, my cheeks hurt from smiling. STePz might grab you in a different way, for a different reason, but it’s well worth going to find out just how it hits you.

Catherine Provenzano is pursuing a PhD in ethnomusicology at New York Univeristy. She writes mostly about polyphony in Mediterranean music and Auto-Tune, sometimes separately, sometimes together.

Posted at 10:58 PM

< A chat with SummerStage's Curator of Dance | Main | Robert Lyons, stronger than ever: The Ice Factory Turns 20 >