- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

Watching Savion Glover’s spellbinding exhibition of tap dancing at Strathmore on Sunday afternoon — dreadlocks flying, the sounds from his feet exploding like machine-gun bullets — brought to mind George Balanchine’s remark about another superlative hoofer. “You can’t say Fred Astaire is the greatest tap-dancer who ever lived,” the veteran choreographer once noted. “No, that puts him in a box. He is more than that. He is Astaire.”

If ever a dancer were outside the box, it is Mr. Glover. He is unsurpassed not only as a dancer, but also as a drummer: Using his feet as sticks, the intricacy and sheer bravura of his rhythmic drive are dazzling.

In the course of the afternoon, he also scatted like Ella Fitzgerald and offered an amused hip-hop reproof to audience members who arrived late. Then he turned singer, knocking off mesmerizing riffs on several songs, including two great ones — a wonderfully agile improvisation on “The Way You Look Tonight” and a sustained variation of the haunting ballad “Nature Boy.”

His magical musicianship didn’t occur in a vacuum. The four musicians of the jazz band the Otherz were an integral part of his mix: percussionist Brice Grice, saxophonist-flutist Patience Higgins, Andy McCloud on double bass and musical director Tommy James at the piano. There was no doubt about the closeness of their collaboration. Most of the time, Mr. Glover, his back to the audience, is interacting directly with the musicians, all playing off one another’s riffs.

His stamina is beyond phenomenal. He came onstage absorbed in his hard-driving, no-holds-barred rhythms and sustained that level of power for a solid hour in the program’s first half.

And, as Frank Sinatra would say, he did it all his way. No scenery, rock-band light show, fancy costumes or frills. Just one man hunkered down on an 8-by-20-foot platform raised a foot or so above the stage, delivering a stream of endlessly inventive, intricate, nuanced, explosive hoofing.

Watching him perform demands the most concentrated kind of audience attention, a focus on the ingenious way Mr. Glover uses his taps: slamming with both feet, feather-light brushes, staccato walking passages, making sounds with the side of his shoes, his heels, his toes, scraping the floor with his soles, always syncopating the rhythms with wit and killer speed.

When he returned after intermission, he brought on three talented young dancers — Maurice Chestnut, Ashley DeForest and Cartier Williams, who worked in the same brisk, musicianly way. They were first rate, but when Mr. Glover joined them, it was fascinating to see how his style was looser, his arms giving little rhythmic inflections rather than just swinging at his sides.

When Mr. Glover was a preschooler he was already a drummer, and he soon learned that he could make similar complicated sounds with his feet. By the time he was 11, he was wowing audiences on Broadway in “The Tap Dance Kid,” and the next year, he joined the cast of “Black and Blue” and met the old-time hoofers who became his heroes and his mentors.

He had a long stint on the children’s program “Sesame Street,” and a generation of children grew up watching him tap for Big Bird.

Then came his own breakthrough as a choreographer 10 years ago with the long-lasting hit “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.” All that is part of what he brings to the stage.

He also incorporates the great traditions of his mentors — Jimmy Slyde, Lon Chaney, Chuck Green, Buster Brown and Gregory Hines — forging an art form newly invigorated by his genius.

One of the most astounding things about his performance was the realization that — only two hours after his killer Sunday matinee — Mr. Glover would be charging onto Strathmore’s stage to deliver his dynamo show all over again.

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