"Renowned tap dancer comes to Madame Walker

Savion Glover Tap Extraordinaire in ‘Classical Savion’

Madame Walker Theatre Centre, 617 Indiana Ave.

Nov. 18 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: $35 general admission, $50 VIP;

call 317-236-2099 or visit www.walkertheatre.com

Savion Glover tapped in cowboy boots for five years before he got his first pair of tap shoes — red and white — for his 1985 Broadway debut as the title character in The Tap Dance Kid. Four years later, he garnered a Tony nomination for Best Actor for Black and Blue. In 1996, at age 22, Glover won Broadway’s Tony for Best Choreographer for Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk, co-created with George C. Wolfe, and in which he starred. Noise/Funk forged a new theatrical form, a new theatrical language and redefined what audiences want when they attend theater.

Savion Glover is cited as the leader of a new generation of rhythm tappers, having received the mantle from Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slyde and Sammy Davis Jr.

“My contribution is what was laid out to me, as a path to continue on,” said Glover during a telephone interview from his studios in New York City on Oct. 12.

“I’m on the path to bring forward the long story of tap, to remind, reflect, share with people where I come from, what I know and what I plan to do with what I know. It’s everyday life. I want tap dance to continue, to exist everywhere, and in that way I want to be like water so my contribution is continuous but changing. Everything is recycled. Tradition and style are interpreted through the energy of today.”

Glover speaks of lending his energy to what was handed to him by Hines, whom he says interpreted dance in a percussive way through melody and tone. Vaudeville headliner Bill “Bojangles” Robinson developed a light, crisp style, dancing on his toes and departing from the flat-footed buck-and-wing tradition.

Glover easily delivers an overview of jazz from its beginnings as a fusion of West African “juba” and “ringshout dances,” English clog and Irish step dancing that took place between the 1600s and early 1800s, during which time whites and blacks watched each other dance and subsequently copied and borrowed from each other.

African dance, done on the bare earth with bare feet, favored gliding, dragging, shuffling and stamping footwork and a more relaxed body attitude. In European step dances, the body is held erect and dance is usually performed in hard-soled shoes or clogs on wooden floors with articulated and highly codified heel-and-toe actions. Eighteenth century laws forbidding enslaved persons from playing drums led to feet becoming the most important percussive instrument, and thus was tap born.

Post Civil War America saw a growth in tap vocabulary with the addition of vibrant new steps, including syncopated stop time, soft shoe, waltz clog and time step.

American tap is different from other dancing based on percussive footwork because of the unique rhythms of jazz music, explains Glover.

The basis of jazz is African dance and music, whose polyrhythmic and multimetric rhythmic signature is pushed forward by a propulsive tempo that accents the offbeat. William Henry Lane (1825-1852) was the first recognized practitioner of tap dance, performing in New York and Boston. In London, he challenged champion Irish step dancer Jack Diamond in a series of contests. Barney Fagan was referred to as “the father of tap” in the early 1900s. Glover, however, refers to his mentor and teacher Jimmy Slyde as “grandfather of tap” for this new 20th and 21st generation. “Tap is an artform that’s been nourished by begats,” Glover explains. “It gets handed down.”

Tap lost its popularity during the 1950s. The 1960s and 1970s revival recognized tap as an artform, not merely entertainment. Tap returned to Broadway, film and the concert stage, and festivals and tap companies emerged worldwide.

Knowing the history is important, Glover says. “There’s an extensive bibliography on tap available from the Smithsonian [www.si.edu/resource/faq/nmah/spirit.htm]. Concertos are written for tap, it’s a specific repertoire of composition.”

Contemporary composers include Martin Gould, Rob Kapilow and Michael Torke.

Happy Feet, Glover’s newest film, opens Nov. 17. This motion-capture animation is set in Antarctica — with penguins, of course.

Glover describes Classical Savion as uniting the improvisational elements of the jazz tap tradition with structured themes of classical music. Glover, dancing to his own choreography, is backed by his jazz quartet The Otherz and a 10-piece string ensemble playing Vivaldi, Bach and Mendelssohn.

Glover says he began his crusade to keep tap dancing from being forgotten with programs to train young artists to dance with new style and new expression. His protégé, Cartier Williams, is recognized as another teen sensation. Glover intends to follow the tour of Classical Savion with a series of master classes in major U.S. dance centers.

“I am very much looking forward to being in Indianapolis in the historic Madame Walker building. Madame Walker was featured in Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk, as you know. And, I’ll enjoy talking about coming back to Indianapolis for a residency.”

Log on to saviongloverproductions.com for more information.

Circle City on tap

Tap dance may not have a performance presence in Indianapolis, which it does have in Chicago, New York and L.A., yet tap is taught at over a dozen dance academies/studios in the area and is a growing part of the curriculum and after-school programming at Park Tudor School.

• At Dance Class Studio in Carmel, Rhonda Kaspar and Jaime Long share their different approaches and training so students are exposed to the range of tap, including musical theater, Broadway and Chicago’s urban down on the floor techniques. Kaspar and Long use the 10 levels of tap instruction perfected by master tapper/teacher Al Gilbert.

“We really suggest to parents that toddlers start with tap. They quickly learn rhythm, balance and counting and build gross motor skills. They learn to do things in unison, take turns and pay attention to an adult other than their parents.

“And they get to wear tap shoes, which make noise. It’s instant gratification for the child to hear the sound and know it’s the right sound for that step. Our goal is to introduce kids to the love of dance. From tap they can go

on to jazz and ballet.” (Call 317-566-9960 or e-mail DanceClassStudio@yahoo.com; 260 W. Carmel Drive, Carmel.)

• Andrea Bruce is the tap instructor at the Jordan Academy of Dance at Butler University, which has a tap program from age 4 beginners to advanced high school students.

Bruce has developed her own stylistic approach, which is technique-based. The advanced level is contemporary, like Savion Glover’s, set to contemporary music.

“We also have a good component of adult tap,” stated Larry Attaway, head of the academy. “The Thursday evening class is one of the hottest tickets.”

While Jordan Academy is primarily a ballet school, Attaway explains, “We are in a day and age where you have to be multidisciplined in dance training. There are crossovers and teachers support each other and our students in all dance disciplines.” (Call 317-940-9536; 5154 Boulevard Place, Indianapolis.)

• Linda Reese founded Dance Magic Performing Arts Center in 1981. Tap is the first dance genre she introduces 3-year-olds to and students are introduced to all styles of tap along with all styles of other dance genres. Reese also speaks of preparing dancers with multidisciplines.

Her former students include Liberty Harris and Jillian Godwin of Dance Kaleidoscope. “I have kids dancing all over, Broadway, Disney, Europe, Vegas, L.A.”

Her current group of tap dancers will be performing a 20-minute program at Lincoln Center on Jan. 15, 2007, to honor Martin Luther King. (Call 317-823-9117 or log on to www.dmpac.net; 59th and Sunnyside, Indianapolis.)

• Theresa Brust opened the Carmel Dance Center at Performing Arts Carmel 36 years ago. Tap, she explains, is “sold in studios as a part of their multidisciplinary dance training, it’s included in recitals and important for competitions, but in Indianapolis tap doesn’t hold its own in public performances like modern or ballet. It’s a shame we don’t have more.” (Call 317-844-9131; 575 W. Carmel Drive, Carmel.)

• Laurie Cutsinger, head of Park Tudor’s dance program, looks at dance globally, as “a fantastic way to connect with the world.

“We educate kids with dance as a universal language. We have an interdisciplinary side-by-side dance program connected with the whole curriculum and tap is a major part of it.

“I ask my soccer players, ‘Do you want to learn how to control the ball better?’ A ‘yes’ introduces them to tap as a wonderful way to learn to do just that.

“We’re keeping our dance program at the recreational level rather than as competition. My goal is for every child to dance and to love dance and to be comfortable with it.”

At Park Tudor, Mark Szobody, a Butler University graduate in dance, teaches four levels of tap from beginner to adult. (Call 317-415-2775; 7200 N. College Ave.)

The Tap Team at Park Tudor

NUVO visited Park Tudor on Nov. 1 and talked with Tap Team members Gabe Caceres, Sam Soldatis and Ricky Thomas during a rehearsal as they were perfecting a routine to share in classrooms throughout the school. Sam is a third-grader; Gabe and Ricky are in fourth grade. All three are active in multiple sports and play on city-based teams along with school teams.

NUVO: What’s exciting about tap dancing to make you want to learn?

SAM: I like making noise. In all other dance classes you have to be quiet. I like being creative with dance. My mom is a jazz dance instructor so I’m around dance a lot. I especially like being able to help teach the beginning class.

GABE: It’s hard and challenging and that helps you with being better at sports. I also dance salsa with my family.

RICKY: We learn new steps at every class. We’re working on a performance routine together and that’s like being on a team.

NUVO: What’s your favorite step, favorite music to dance to?

It was unanimous for the CD Music from the Motion Picture How to Eat Fried Worms because it has a good beat.

Sam likes the brush step because he can use his whole foot. Ricky likes the percussive feel of the triple time step. Gabe likes them all, but might be partial to The Buffalo.

NUVO: Who’s your role model in tap dance?

Sam says the dancers in ISO’s Yuletide concerts inspire him. Gabe is partial to old Shirley Temple films. “Savion Glover,” Ricky said.

NUVO: What do you think you would like to do with your tap training?

SAM: You mean when I grow up? Well, I might perform with my family or have a little group that performs.

RICKY: After a football career, I’d find a friend and perform all over the world.

GABE: I’d make it a second job, like Ricky.

NUVO: What would you say to other boys who aren’t tapping?

SAM: That is a very good question. I would encourage them to do tap because it’s fun. I like Mark. He makes it fun.

RICKY: I’d say, “You should start. It’s fun and can help you in the future. You can get a lot of energy from it and you can teach tap.” I get to teach younger kids now. I like helping younger kids. And teaching tap is a good way to help them.

GABE: I’d say, “It’s really fun. At least give it a try.” Like Ricky said, you can travel all over the world if you get good at performing.

SAM: I’d also tell them if you do soccer it helps a lot.

The parents of Sam, Ricky and Gabe arrived to pick the boys up. They all agreed that tap dance training has had a positive influence on their sons, including learning to take direction and turn it around by developing leadership skills, improved discipline and self-confidence, and gaining flexibility and agility and verbal articulation along with memory. “They have to remember their routines,” said Kristy Soldatis, Sam’s mother.

“Choosing the right music and putting steps together to make something nice gives Gabe a lot of confidence,” commented Maria Caceres, Gabe’s mother.

The parents also agreed that having a male instructor is a bonus. Even though some siblings and students might good-naturedly tease the boys about doing “a girl thing,” the boys pay no attention.

“They know the strength and discipline it takes to dance well, and they’re aware of the football programs including dance as a way of improving agility,” Kristy Soldatis concluded

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