To read Alastair Macaulay’s June 23 New York Times review of Savion Glover’s latest extensions of the tap-dance genre, one would have thought Glover mugged him in a dark alley. See for yourself if it doesn’t read, even a little, like an old-fashioned grievance against modernity (at best): (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/23/arts/dance/23glover.html?scp=2&sq=Savion%20Glover&st=cse)
Glover, in turn, was the one who felt mugged by Macaulay’s review, having opened that night’s performance at the Joyce Theater by invoking Macaulay’s name with saturnine disdain. (Few in the audience seemed to acknowledge his barbs. Don’t people read reviews anymore? Oh, right. They don’t read newspapers either.) He did this, as with everything else in the show’s lengthy first half, with his back to the audience. If this stance was reminiscent of Miles Davis, then the fusillades of syncopated footwork resounding throughout the theater brought to mind the “sheets of sound” attack of Davis’ greatest band mate John Coltrane.
It was enough to make you wonder whether a jazz critic would have been a better choice to review “SoLE PoWER.” Macaulay’s comparisons of Glover’s long-form cadenza to woodpeckers, electric drills and dental equipment were themselves reminiscent of the peevish reactions hurled more than a century ago against modernity in the arts. Glover’s “make it new” impulse to stretch and, if possible, pierce the parameters of tap dance doesn’t seem all that unreasonable; if anything, his sense of adventure seems almost archaic in what we’re supposed to believe is a totally post-modern cultural universe.
This isn’t to say that everything worked. There were times during the first half, (especially when Glover had all the stage lights dimmed except for the starry-sky backdrop), when his efforts to answer his riffing query, “What does sound look like?,” lost their bearings and scattered the energies he was trying to coalesce. But based on this one night’s performance, I’m guessing that “SoLe PoWER” intends to be elastic enough to accommodate whatever dare Glover wishes to take. “We play what the day demands,” Miles Davis was fond of saying and Glover”s program asks (warns?) its audience to make its own adjustments to the imperatives of the moment. As with the modernist innovators of the past, Glover is acknowledging risk and accepting whatever consequences or rewards may come from defying conventions – even those that made him a star. You may not want to go with him. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not onto something.