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Paul Ben-Itzak
Performance Reviews
Special Focus
Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt
Paris, OT (France)

'Sounds' sensation - 14 years after 'Noise,' Glover debuts Chez Bernhardt

by Paul Ben-Itzak
June 17, 2010
Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt
2 place du Chatelet
Paris, OT (France) 75004
PARIS — What was bizarre about seeing Savion Glover's "Bare Soundz" here, as I did in the June 9 opening of its debut run at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, is that Glover, who was *already* established in New York when he laid down "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in da Funk" in the last millenium was greeted here as something of a novelty, a response which reflects more the general lassitude of French presenters when it comes to any U.S. artist post-Merce and post-Judson than Glover's actual status. Even more amazing for me had been that at least two of my Paris colleagues asked me who he was, which would be the equivalent of a New York critic asking a European to explain who Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker was.

Local response aside, what was amazing to one who had seen 'noise' 14 years earlier — and thus performed by a Glover 14 years younger — was that where the earlier work was reflective and even introspective, "Bare Soundz" is pure explosive wood platform assaulting energy, as Glover, Marshall Davis Jr. and Maurice Chestnut deliver what's almost as much a march as a musical excursion, such is the force and determination with which their feet hammer the three platforms on which they rotate.

Ah yes, hammers. If I had hammers as powerful as the feet of Glover and his two colleagues, I might well hammer in the morning and the evening and all over this land but I wouldn't necessarily mike my feet, or at least I'd pump down the volume. Here if the feets didn't fail the performers, the over-amping of their impact at times had the effect of hammering the point home too emphatically: It was just too *loud.* Where this becomes a problem is it muddles the nuance, and with Savion Glover, there is just so much nuance there to be appreciated! My killer moment, feet-wise anyway, was when he turned them to the side, balanced on the edge of the sole, and made the beat with the *side* of the shoes by slamming them down laterally. Much as the point of "Bare Soundz" — the feet as the only instruments, sans need of any other musical implements — is supposed to be *musical*, one of the many marvels of Glover is that he is not *just* a tap dancer but a dancer in the full meaning of the word, exploring every possible use of his body, interested not just in producing sound but creating and showing off new movement combinations.

Of course here, in the universe of tap — or my limited exposure to it anyway — where Glover is most unique (among his contemporaries anyway — let's give 'nuff respect to those flying Nicholas Brothers) — is in his mobile upper body, from the torso out through the arms. First of all — and this was evident even in comparing him with the two dancers he chose to accompany him for this show — is that he doesn't hold his torso erect but inclines it towards the ground or if you prefer, soil. Then there are his animated arms and hands. It's too easy to ascribe this to Glover's wanting to make tap hip by situating it in a hip-hop context, thus the arms bent at the elbow and the signifying fingers. But really it's more than that. Glover is possessed of course, and possession doesn't limit itself to just one part of the body but takes over the whole. If the feet reign — if the feet are the channel for the *duende* — they take with them the rest of the body.

If I use the flamenco term duende, it's because the Theatre de la Ville artistic director, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, made a point of asking me after the show if I'd noticed that he'd deliberately programmed Glover after Israel Galvan, reviewed here. While Demarcy-Mota emphasized that the connections in these type of juxtapositions that he likes programming don't need to be evident, and might not even exist, he agreed with me that what these two young men have in common is their spirituality. I don't mean that in the formal religious sense, but rather as a reference to the root of the word — spirit. Like Nijinksy, they are possessed by something that goes deeper and is older than mere training, rhythm, musicality or even artistry. They are channels. This is why I kept trying to explain to colleagues who asked about Glover before he got here that while he might technically be categorized as 'tap,' he's much more than that. It's the same with Galvan. It's said that the last thing you want to do if you're taking a 'newbie' friend — someone unfamiliar with dance, who starts out by saying, "I don't understand dance" — to a dance concert, the last thing you want to do is take them to a modern dance concert where the performers stand around in their underwear doing nothing. (Or, these days, talking.) What you *do* want to do is take them to see (and hear) a Galvan or a Glover. For starters, when they try to get out of it by saying, "But I don't understand dance" or "I don't really like dance," you can say, "Throw out the concept of 'dance' if it turns you off. I'm taking you to this concert because it's going to move you."

If the movement was compelling from start to finish of "Bare Soundz," topping off with a one-off where all three dancers did quick turns on one platform, dancing for a minute before bounding off to make room for the next person, the music, which was the principal argument for the name of the show, didn't vary enough. Except for a beginning in which Davis and Chestnut provided a steady, rapid under-beat for Glover's more distinct "playing," I can't remember any of it a week later. The percussion, that is; for Glover also *sings* here. His mother Yvette Glover is a gospel singer and it must be in the genes, for Glover's tones, while not as powerful, are flawless, even if it was perplexing to hear him sing the praises of "Mr. Bojangles" at one point. Was this a softening of his previous disdain for Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, dissed and mocked in 'noise, or irony?

But I'm quibbling; there's no question that notwithstanding an apparent passive boycott by the French critical corps, of the opening night at least — I didn't see any of the usual suspects at the opening — the Theatre de la Ville regulars who stuck around for the after-party offered something I've never seen them offer before. When Glover and colleagues emerged to join us, everyone burst into applause.

Savion Glover's Paris appearance was part of a "Bare Soundz" tour organized by the Theatre de la Ville which also included dates in San Sebastian in Spain, Lisbon, and on June 18 in Brussels, reflecting Demarcy-Mota's interest to not just rest in the role of local presenter but to take certain artists and promote them throughout Europe.
Savion Glover Courtesy of Savion Glover Productions

Savion Glover
Courtesy of Savion Glover Productions

Photo © & courtesy of Unknown

Savion Glover Courtesy of Savion Glover Productions

Savion Glover
Courtesy of Savion Glover Productions

Photo © & courtesy of Unknown

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