Last night, Savion Glover’s just-debuted show, Om, spun my head around a full 720° at NYC’s Joyce Theater. Against a backdrop of low drones, Psalm 23, Tibetan Monk chants, Hindu and Arabic sung prayers (bookended by Coltrane and Trane-like instrumental passages), on a dark stage covered with yellow candles, gongs/singing bowls, Holy Books and icons of the world’s major religions, LP covers (Coltrane, Lena Horne, Jacksons Mahalia and Michael, &c.), oversize photos of Ghandi, the Dalai Lama and sundry tap greats, and seated non-dancers steeped in meditation, Glover and his group took tap somewhere I had never expected it to go — somewhere DEEP…
Photos of the stage were allowed, post-performance.
Armed with only two heel taps, two toe taps, the varied acoustic properties of of the different sections of the box stage upon which he stood, unbelievable powers of concentration and superhuman muscle control, SG was a wildly expressive one-man percussion ensemble. He began slow, quiet and conversational, his feet speaking the equivalent of South Indian Konnakol (wherein rhythmic compositions are created using percussive vocal syllables—see, e.g., the Vinayakram Brothers’ wonderful vocal three-way in this video, from 44:14 to 49:42).
Over time, his pace and intensity increased… each tap, slide, shuffle and STOMP perfectly placed. At times, I could pick out which hits represented the bass drum, snare, hi-hat and crash cymbal of an imaginary drum kit. With one foot, he tapped out faster (and more accurate) sustained rolls than most drummers can with four limbs flying. His speed, his expressiveness, and his stamina kept the audience’s collective jaw floorbound throughout the performance. In several sections, he performed a powerful polyrhythmic pas de deux with cast member Marshall Davis Jr., the two men alternately egging each other on and setting up dovetailing crossrhythms that emerged from the stage as a unified, driving force. All the while, the background monks intoned and the sacred drones lulled the audience into an alpha state frequently upended by “how’d they do that” gasps. Although the show was largely improvised, all motion stopped on a dime as the last musical backdrop came to a sudden conclusion, the last of the evening’s many awe-inspiring moments.
This was not at all what I had (unfairly?) come to expect from a night of tap. There was no showboating, no top hats, no ‘jazz hands’… it didn’t ‘swing’… the pedal pyrotechnics, superimposed as they were upon the resonant, mystical Eastern drones, conjured feelings of a deep, long-wrought, fearsomely peacefully devotional rapture… akin to the kanjira playing of V. Selvaganesh or John Mclaughlin’s alternately blissful and blistering guitar work with Mahavishnu Orchestra (whose song title “Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love” captures perfectly the essence of each Glover footfall). Spiritual jazz lives on, and it required no voices or instruments…..
Sadly, I found no video from this show on The Internets. Hopefully, it has been professionally filmed, and will be commercially released. If you have a chance to see this (he and his group will be performing it at the Joyce until July 12), you owe it to yourself to check it out…..