When: 4th April 2014 / Where: Sadler’s Wells
I grew up on old school Hollywood musicals, watching Gene Kelly leap across the screen, and Fred Astaire glide around. As far back as I could remember I wanted to be able to tap dance, watching performers like Sammy Davis Junior, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Gregory Hines as I got older. Savion Glover was a name I first heard in 2007, when I came across a video of him talking about tap on the Happy Feet DVD (look, that film is awesome and you know it). I looked him up straight after and discovered that Savion Glover is the modern tap guy, reinventing and reinvigorating the art form for new generations. So when I heard he would be performing at Sadler’s Wells, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to watch my first tap show and see a master at work at the same time.
First things first: even to an untrained eye like mine, it was clear to see that both Glover and his co-star Marshall Davis Jr were ridiculously talented. The multitude of sounds they were able to produce with the slightest movements was nothing short of astounding. The wonderment of the audience in general was easy to feel. The stage was very sparse – just floating pictures of Glover’s tap heroes, boards for dancing on and…a guy all in white meditating (and possible praying) in the corner. I mean, that’s all he did. The whole time. I think the idea was to liken the experience to a religious one; that this was a sort of church for Glover, a place where he got to do what he loved most while paying respect and homage to those that had gone before him and influenced his work. But still, the guy just sat on stage was a little odd. His presence was unobtrusive but it was hard to see how it fit with the rest of the show.
Glover started off alone, hardly moving yet producing this complicated rhythm. It is remarkable to watch someone produce so much by seeming to do so little and Glover really showcased the subtlety and complexity of tap. After Davis Jr joined him on stage, each standing on their own square of staging, between them they produced a cacophony of beats and sounds. If you closed your eyes, you would be hard pushed not to believe that there was a percussionist orchestra on stage. The speed at which they moved and the pure energy emitted was exhilarating. During one solo, Davis Jr seemed almost possessed; his movements so rapid that was as if he couldn’t stop even if he wanted to. Glover and Davis Jr stepped back at different times, allowing the other to perform singly, both seeming to absorb the other’s energy and gaining inspiration and excitement from sharing the stage. Though it was undoubtedly Glover’s show, there is no questioning the additional fire brought by Davis Jr.
The only thing was, that I realised fairly quickly into the 90 minute show I had forgotten about a really fundamental part of tap dancing. The TAPPING.
I had never seen a live tap show before and so I didn’t really think it through. Because the thing is: that amazing as the movements and sound and energy was (and I really was impressed) after the first half an hour the tapping just sort of started to feel relentless and unvarying. No doubt there were subtleties and nuances in those performances that, not being a tap dancer or connoisseur of the art form, I missed. But I’m willing to bet that I wasn’t the only audience member who wasn’t a die-hard tap fan and I did start to feel that maybe seeing the very best in the world experiment on stage wasn’t the most newbie-friendly performance. The best way I could describe to others was that it was like watching a really long jam session; when you see a musician just go off on a riff or a tangent. That’s what this felt like. Glover and Davis Jr obviously fed off of each other and were delighting in challenging themselves and testing new ideas on stage. However, this did mean that it seemed as if the audience was sort of irrelevant at times. I enjoyed the experience and am glad I went, but honestly, I’m not sure I would attend a full length tap show again, as I found it hard to connect in an ongoing way with what was happening on stage.
In other news: Thanks to Sadler’s Wells FOH staff for rescuing my dropped hat (which I love, because it make me feel like I’m in the ‘30s) and rather amusingly perching it on the neck of the headless t-shirt dummy, making it easy to spot. Shout out for my favourite moment of the night has to go to the two girls I passed waiting in their car on Rosebery Avenue, belting out Beyoncé’s ‘Flawless’ for all they were worth. Ladies, I salute you.