Tap-dance maestro Savion Glover, the Tony-nominated choreographer of Broadway’s “Shuffle Along,” returns to perform as part of the American Dance Festival (ADF) and Duke Performances this month, but he has longstanding ties to our area.
Some younger dancers Glover has worked with got their start with the N.C. Youth Tap Ensemble (NCYTE, pronounced incite or insight), a company of some 40 youngsters, from 8 to 18. The Chapel Hill-based company, considered one of the best youth tap ensembles anywhere, has performed internationally.
One of Glover’s protégés and a former NCYTE dancer, Michelle Dorrance, won a MacArthur genius award last year. Her company, Dorrance Dance, will perform again this summer at Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts.
Still, Glover, 42, doesn’t think about influencing other tap dancers, he said.
“Basically, I feel I have a tremendous amount of work to do for the dance and the art form,” he said.
He continues to create productions that speak to the essence of tap-dancing, how the dance plays a part in storytelling and in its musicality.
“I don’t keep up with tap dancers,” he said. “They’re like rappers to me. There are so many of them now.”
Ask him, instead, about Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, he suggested.
Glover will perform at Duke’s Page Auditorium with legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette. The two shows Monday and Tuesday had to be rescheduled from this past March as Glover worked on “Shuffle Along.”
Joining them on stage will be George Colligan on piano and Jerome Harris on bass. Fellow hoofer and long-time collaborator of Glover’s, Marshall Davis Jr., will also perform.
“It’s an evening of tour de force of percussion and jazz,” Glover said.
Talking about the stamina needed for the two-hour performance, he added: “Time is not even a concern to us for this situation. The more we play, the more we learn. It’s not about stamina.”
For Glover, dancing is not only about communication, but also prayer. In the past, he has talked about the spirituality of what he does.
Asked how his dancing might relate to what athletes call being in “the zone,” he added, “I wake up and I’m in the zone. ... My performance is the continuation of my life.”
He went on, “Everything has to do with meditation. It’s a conversation, it’s a joy, it’s everything.”
Glover emphasized that his dancing, in addition, is about trust – trust with the audience, trust with the people he’s performing with.
As for his connection here, it began long ago with his mother, Yvette Glover. She was attending the St. Louis Tap Festival with her young son when she met NCYTE’s founder/artistic director Gene Medler, recognized as one of the leading tap teachers on the national scene. In a recent interview, Medler said, “She just put her arms around the company.”
Talking about a much younger Glover, Medler noted: “He was just polite and incredible gifted. There was no attitude with him. There was no aloofness.”
Yvette Glover invited Medler out to lunch and has continued her relationship with NCYTE ever since. Following that lunch, her son decided to come to Chapel Hill and perform for free with the company. Since then, the tap wonder has choreographed a dance for NCYTE and held workshops for its young dancers.
The kind of tap Glover, Dorrance and NCYTE perform is called “rhythm tap,” Medler said. Dancers interpret sounds with their feet, often improvising, like in jazz music.
As my younger daughter, Bryce Haac, a former NCYTE member, once told me years ago in describing Savion Glover’s art form: “He makes the beat. He’s one with the beat. He makes the audience one with the beat.”
About Glover’s influence on the next generation, Medler summed it up this way: “A whole generation saw him on ‘Sesame Street’ and MTV. He’s a hero.”
To see “An Evening with Savion Glover & Jack DeJohnette” at Duke’s Page Auditorium on Monday, June 20, and Tuesday, June 21, at 8 p.m., call the Duke Box Office at 919-684-4444. Single ticket prices are $35, $45 and $55.