Savion Glover brings 'Serious Awareness' to Tap Dance
For award-winning dancer/choreographer, Savion Glover, tap dance is no laughing matter. In anticipation of his upcoming performance which opens the season at the Brooklyn Center for Performing Arts, I had the lucky opportunity to speak with Mr. Glover and learn about his perspective on dance, history, and humor.
Alejandra: I spoke with Jon Yanofsky (the Center’s Director) during the summer and he is very much looking forward to having you open the season. Do you have any thoughts on the upcoming experience?
Savion: We’re excited. I’m excited to be anywhere, wherever we are going to be. Excited, honored, to be invited there.
A: The show is called STePZ. Why?
S: It’s called STePZ because…that’s the title we came up with. At one point it was reference to my journey in dance thus far, in reference to music from the past. But we’re also using staircases and paying tribute to the Nicholas Brothers and Bojangles.
A: And what’s up with that lowercase “e” in there?
S: That just me. I just like to do that. And, that way people can know it’s my work.
A: I’ve noticed that in a lot of titles of yours.
S: That just me.
A: It’s like your signature, but in a title.
S: Yeah… I don’t know if my 6th grade English teacher would like that though.
A: Your 6th grade English teacher would probably be ok with it at this point. You’re from Jersey, right? Where did you go to school?
S: Yeah, I went to Queen of Angels and then an arts high school.
A: And are you still in Jersey?
S: Based in Newark.
A: Ok so, what do audiences attending STePZ on Saturday night have to look forward to other than that set?
S: It’s not an extravagant set, nothing like a big Broadway set. It’s just three staircases. But, they can look forward to a very high, energetic evening of dancing.
A: Will there be any opportunities for those who didn’t secure tickets to this production to see it another time?
S: Yeah…we’re on tour right now, started in Purchase on Friday. Brooklyn is the last stop on coast, but we will be in Princeton, NJ coming up sometime around Thanksgiving. They can check my website or the Facebook page.
A: How does this show serve your mission as a 21st century tap dancer and choreographer? You’ve been quoted as saying that you are dedicated to bringing tap back to its essence, and that your style is ‘young and funk.’
S: That’s from like ’94. I say things depending on what is current. So, if I see something disturbing on TV, I might say that we need to bring the essence of tap. But tap is back. It’s very much alive and relevant. My mission is just to continue to bring awareness to the art form as an art form…to bring seriousness and awareness to tap dance. My style is what it is and has not changed— a tribute to Jimmy Slyde, Lon Chaney, Gregory Hines. My approach to the dance is the same.
A: Ok, so maybe it would be more accurate to say that your mission is to honor the history of tap through the 21st century.
S: Yeah…my agenda is allowing others to understand where this art form has come from. It is my proud privilege to allow others to learn about and hear the musicality of past tap masters through my dance. And I want to eradicate…remind those who are easily ready to joke or make a light of tap dancing that my mission is to bring a level of serious awareness to this art form.
A: Why the emphasis on seriousness?
S: Tap always been an easy end of a joke, because of its history. It’s not a joke. Some tap can be a joke, or jokingly done, but that’s not style I do. I distinguish myself from clowning approaches.
A: You’ve been successful since you were very young, and accomplished a lot. Anything you are striving to accomplish now that you still aim for and haven’t yet achieved?
S: I want to do a 360 degree jump with a dirt bike. Like a quad.
A: How long have you been riding dirt bikes?
S: A couple years.
A: That’s a pretty serious goal for only having started a few years ago. Are you practicing?
S: Yeah, but I am ready. I am very much into it, it’s a daily thing. I like to practice on ramps out back, but my wife gives me the evil eye.
A: Well good luck with that! Anything else?
S: No, that’s it.
A: Any contemporary tap shows or tap performers whose work you admire?
A: Wow, really?
S: Unfortunately, I have no interest in anyone right now. A lot of [the tap dancers I admire] are dead. If Gregory Hines were producing and performing in a show, that would be one.
A: That’s interesting because you mentioned earlier that you think that contemporary tap is relevant, alive, and well.
S: It’s alive and well because I am relevant and alive and well. So as long as I’m doing it, it is in good hands.
A: And what happens when you aren’t tap dancing anymore? Will tap just stop developing?
S: I’m sure it would continue to develop seriously, but I’m not sure who will develop it. I’m not sure of the agenda others have when it comes to keeping the art form alive by remembering great contributors of past. Like last night, I saw tap dance on TV. It was joking, it was a joke.
A: Those seem like two different things, being a joke and joking.
S: It was for a laugh, and it was a joke. If that’s what the kids see when they see tap, that’s what they will do.
A: Why do you see that as a problem?
S: When the dance allows a listener or audience to laugh, it becomes clowning. That pulls away from the essence of what tap is. Many emotions are provoked through tap dancing, but laughter shouldn’t be.
A: What about other dance forms? It is ok if they inspire laughter? I am a ballet dancer and its pretty uncommon that you hear laughter in a theater during a ballet production. Do you think it would be ok to make an audience laugh in that context?
S: I’ve never witnessed a ballet or gone to a ballet. But it’s not something to laugh at either. Like, that guy…Baryshnikov. What he was doing people didn’t laugh at.
A: So, no laughing.
S: There’s no laughing in modern dance, ballet dance, or tap dance.
A: But isn’t there a difference between laughing at a kind of dance or dancer, and laughing at a choreographic joke?
S: Sure, you can get a laugh through the choreography. Like in our show, we do this Shostakovich number. In it, we do this take on the ballet. None of us are ballet dancers, but we act like we’re doing ballet. We stop tapping and do what a ballet dancer might do during the music. It’s a funny moment, and it has nothing to do with tap dancing.
A: I wonder if a ballet dancer would find that funny.
S: Yeah, because it gives them chance to laugh at themselves.
A: What if someone made a ballet and at one point in it ballet dancers pretended to be tap dancers.
S: It would depend on tastefully or distastefully it was done. I believe we were able to design the section [in the Shostakovich number] so we didn’t make fun of ballet dancers.
A: How so?
S: We we’re really trying to be like them, but we just can’t because we don’t do ballet.
A: So it was tasteful because you tried to embody ballet dancers, not mock them?
S: Yeah. I guess you’ll have to let me know what you thought of that one after you see it.
A: [laughs] Sure, I will let you know. I look forward to checking that out, and the rest of the production. Anything else you’d like people to know about the production?
S: No, I’m cool. Just that I encourage everyone to come out and enjoy the evening.
STePZ, choreographed and directed by Mr. Glover, will be performed Saturday 11/2/13 in the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts (Walt Whitman Theatre at Brooklyn College). Get your tickets here, or by calling the box office (718) 951-4500 (Tues-Sat, 1pm-6pm)