Savion Glover, the celebrated tap dancer, presented a program at the Joyce Theater, which he directed and choreographed. He called the program Lady5 @ Savion Glover’s BaRoQUe’BLaK TaP CaFé. Why he chose to create a title that looks like a website password is a question. Unlike his title, however, Glover’s tap dancing was always clear and precise, and excitingly highlighted the rhythms of each piece of music.
While the house lights were still up, Glover walked onto the stage and talked directly to the audience. Having been a performer since the age of 10, he seemed to be very comfortable on stage and his conversation was easy and charming. He spoke a little about identity and how people wear masks of a sort until they discover who they are. Then he introduced the members of his group (including the “token” white dancer) and asked if there was anyone in the audience who knew how to tap dance and who had brought tap shoes. Turns out that there was a nine-year-old girl who raised her hand. He chatted with her a bit and, in fact, she performed with him at one point. Wonder who turns up at other performances.
Then the curtain lowered, the lights dimmed and the actual performance began. In the background, there was a platform where stage costumes hung on mannequins. (There was no costume designer listed in the program.) The women dancers who were wearing variations of black rehearsal outfits and the men who were wearing casual outfits, like tee shirts and pants, slowly put on the costumes. The costumes represented different periods in history, and Glover put on a jacket that looked like he was in Hamilton. Later, the dancers removed the costumes and performed in their comfortable attire.
Whatever Glover discussed in the opening – about identity and wearing masks – may have been relevant, but the program could be seen simply as a revue. A wide variety of recorded music was played. The first music sounded like something you’d hear in a French café, and in fact was recorded by a group called French Café Ensemble. Other musical styles included classical (Bach), jazz, pop, salsa, Trinidadian, hip hop, and more, performed by Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Bjork, and others. The dancing paralleled the music. Special mention must go to Brandon Stirling Baker whose lighting design created the changes in atmosphere, subtly separating the numbers.
Whenever Glover or others tapped, they did so on a platform that was heavily miked, so that every sound was amplified and every tap could be loudly and clearly heard. The loud beat created by Glover’s tap shoes was infectious and joyful. There’s no question: Glover deserves his reputation. He’s fabulous.
The other male dancers, the talented Marshall Davis, Jr., Darrell Grand Moutrie, and Jeffrey Foote, provided solid backup and/or solo sequences.
Death to Tutu was a slight and silly bit in which Glover appeared horrified by a ballet tutu that was lowered slowly from the ceiling as if it were a giant spider. It was a running gag.
Drama and theatricality were provided by the well-trained, classy, and versatile women dancers who are called collectively, Lady5 (Natrea Blake, Samatha Berger, Monique Smith, and Megan Gessner). The printed program included several titles composed of upper and lower-case letters which was confusing, and also confusing was why there are four women in a group called Lady5? But who cares, because the performances were dynamic, fully engaging and extremely entertaining. The women didn’t tap, but performed in a variety of other styles: balletic, social, modern, Broadway, etc. Each of the women had a solo, but Miss Anxiety Lady, danced by Ms. Smith, was particularly moving. The recording was the spoken word poetry of Jae Nicelle, titled Friends with Benefits. The words and the choreography were in a balance that is not always the case in other dance programs where spoken word is used in place of music. It was both disturbing and very touching and caused the audience to cheer at the conclusion.
There were almost 20 numbers, each with a different sensibility, different music, and different choreography. Although Glover attempted to add an intellectual gloss, it was a revue, easily enjoyed.
By the end, audience members were whipped into a frenzy and some were literally dancing in the aisles in this intermissionless performance.
Lady5 @ Savion Glover’s BaRoQUe’BLaK TaP CaFé (July 2-7, 2019)
S G MoVE-MEaNTZ
The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.joyce.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission