Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Do you remember ice dancers Torvill and Dean? The way they were, after winning the Olympic Gold Medal in 1984? They won any competition they entered -- by a lot. After a time, it appeared that they were so far ahead of the rest of the field in their chosen sport, there was no longer a challenge for them in performing for an audience and getting a straight row of perfect scores. They started creating programs that pushed the boundaries of what ice dance was understood to be. They skated in silence, putting the focus on the sound of their blades. Or they tried to create a program where they had a step on every single beat of the music. These programs weren't so much about entertaining the audience; they were about exploring the limits of an art form, and if the audience happened to be entertained along the way, so be it. Of course, people continued to line up to see Torvill and Dean skate, no matter what the program. Because even when Torvill and Dean were indulging their own spirit of artistic inquiry, they were still the best ice dancers on the planet, and their performances would always contain some step or sequence of sheer brilliance -- even it was only a side effect of what they were actually intending.
And that's pretty much what it feels like to watch Savion Glover's new Improvography II show, currently kicking off a national tour at the Kodak theatre. Improvography II is Glover's latest exploration of the sounds of tap. Paired with an onstage band, the bulk of the show is a giant jam session in which Glover is simply playing the tap shoes, in the same way other musicians play the keyboard or the drums. There is very little about the show that is geared toward performance. There's nothing showy or splashy about it; the phrase "production number" would not describe anything on stage at the Kodak. Indeed, the presence of the audience is hardly even acknowledged in the dance; when Glover first steps on stage and begins to tap, he spends a long time facing upstage, where the band is. His focus is on interacting musically with the band; that an audience happens to be in the room watching is something that doesn't change his approach to the dance one bit.
Even if you don't appreciate what he's trying to do, you have to admire how amazingly good at it he is. Close your eyes and listen to the music; Glover is playing the tap shoes, and every note is perfectly placed, seamlessly integrated into the live jazz. Besides, he's still Savion Glover. Which means that, even when he is focused entirely on tapping out rhythms or melodies, his tap is still smooth, quick, and deadly accurate. The dance in Improvography is not designed to be visually exciting, but sometimes it is -- it's just a natural result of putting tap shoes on Savion Glover and letting him go. Give him enough time, and something impressive is bound to come out.
The show is basically a sneak peek into a jam session, the sort of thing you'd expect to be happening in someone's garage. The relatively intimate nature of the production isn't done any favors by being housed in the 3500-seat cavern of the Kodak. The problem is in the necessity of amplification, in order for the entire audience to hear the taps that are the whole purpose behind the show. The amplified sound is not as crisp as it could be, and the music is frequently accompanied by the buzz of a sound system that lacks subtlety.
During the second act of Improvography II, Glover is accompanied by his dance troupe, Chapter IV, performing a number Glover choreographed in advance. The difference between this and the improvised numbers is like night and day. All of a sudden, Glover is engaging the audience. More than that, the tap stops just being about sound, and starts communicating. It's good choreography; it has wit and charm to it. All of a sudden, the audience is reminded of how much more there is to good tap than just playing notes. Even though the members of Chapter IV have differing levels of ability, the mere fact of four people tapping in synchronization adds an element of performance to a show which otherwise seems determined to put artistic inquiry ahead of entertainment. While Glover's talent is undeniable and his experiment in sound interesting, Improvography II would be a much easier sell if the show tipped the balance a little further in favor of choreographed performances designed to speak to the audience.
AEG Live and Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment, LLC -- in association with Savion Worldwide, LLC -- presents Savion Glover in Improvography II. With Chapter IV: Maurice Chestnut, Ashley DeForest and Cartier Williams. And featuring members of the Jazz band, The Otherz: Musical Director Tommy James; Brian Grice; Patience Higgins and Andy McCloud. Lighting Design Brenda Gray; Production Stage Manager Thom Schilling; Company Manager Russ Tilaro; Executive Producer & General Manager Toby Simkin. Executive Producer Carole Davis; Producers Robert Nederlander, Jr. and Savion Glover. Press Representative Rubenstein Public Relations, Inc. Direction and Choreography by Savion Glover.