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Truly Astonishing Feat: Tapper Extraordinaire Savion Glover Gets 'ALL FuNKD' UP,' Phenomenally, at the Mac -- Chicago Dance Review

Dance Concert Review

Savion Glover
featuring Dance Candy (band)
McAninch Arts Center at
College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL
November 26, 2017

Having once again been boggled by the beyond amazing Savion Glover, Sunday afternoon at the Mac, I was going to begin my review by saying something along the lines of:

As oft shared on these pages, I have been fortunate to have seen some of the greatest performers of our time—and perhaps even all-time—in a variety of idioms.

From musicians and singers in many genres, to some of the most acclaimed actors, actresses & comedians, to superstar athletes in several fields, to Cirque du Soleil acrobats and others with rare & amazing talents, I have witnessed—live and in person—virtuosity in myriad forms.

Yet while I reserve the right to be contradictorily hyperbolic as the inspiration arises, there has been no one more jaw-droppingly, mind-blowingly impressive at his or her craft than tap dancer Savion Glover. At least from a visceral standpoint.

All photos by Seth Arkin. Please do not repost without
permission and attribution.
But in looking at my last review of Glover in concert—from January 2014 at Chicago's Harris Theatre—I found that's exactly what I wrote then.

Certainly, I will carry forth conveying as best I can—while employing some different words—what made Savion Glover's latest production, titled ALL FuNKD' UP, so special.

But at the center remains Glover's almost indescribable speed, rhythm, talent and stamina when it comes to tap dancing or—as dancer & tap expert Lane Alexander suggested as better terminology in an excellent pre-show discussion, noting how Savion has largely reshaped an art long associated with chorus lines—“foot drumming.”

And while I was graciously allowed to take photos from the wings of the beautifully refurbished Belushi Performance Hall—named for John & Jim, who attended the College of DuPage, at which the McAninch Arts Center resides—I didn't feel at liberty to shoot video of a new show that could have grander aspirations.

So for those completely unaware of this brilliant artist, who first appeared on Broadway at the age of 10 and seems to still be renowned—at 44—as the best tap dancer in the world, I suggest you take a look at this video clip, among many others on YouTube.

Though it should give a good sense of Savion Glover’s prodigious abilities, in the 2-1/2 minute clip he dances without any musical accompaniment.

At the Mac—and it was clearly quite a coup for COD to get this Midwest Premiere—Glover spent almost all of his 75 minutes on stage in constant motion accompanied, and often rhythmically inspired, by a 6-member band dubbed Dance Candy. 

I almost said he was "backed by a band," but that would be inaccurate as through his foot drumming Glover was clearly one of the musicians.

The dancer's reverence for the late great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane has long been apparent, so it was fitting that after a brief warm-up, ALL FuNKD' UP began with a live take on Trane's masterful interpretation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s "My Favorite Things," with Samantha Reed on vocals.

Before the show Alexander spoke about how Glover’s spirituality comes through in his percussive dancing, and witnessing his often transcendent movements and intense focus furthered my sense of his connection to Coltrane.

Likely most famed for his spiritual masterpiece, A Love Supreme, the jazzman died in 1967, but in 2005 at Ravinia I saw Savion tap alongside legendary pianist McCoy Tyner, who had played in Coltrane's classic quartet. And my sister Allison, who attended with me on Sunday, had seen a show in which Glover even more directly paid tribute to the saxophonist.

With the musicians onstage, including Glover, taking solo turns—à la a great jazz combo—"My Favorite Things" lasted about 20 minutes.

Savion would often accompany the others' soloing, and when he locked in with drummer Joshua McCormick it was particularly scintillating.

When the action finally stilled for the first time, Glover warmly welcomed the crowd but—battling some laryngitis—said he would "let my feet do the talking." Although later, he did introduce the rest of Dance Candy. 

In addition to Reed and McCormick, members include guitarist Steven Boone, bassist Derrick Englert, pianist Calvin Keys and Mark Ingraham on horns & percussion. (See the Dance Candy Facebook page.)

The songs performed weren't listed in the show program, so I can only cite what I recognized, and often there seemed to be just snippets of things. But Ingraham's trumpet sublimely drove the classic melody from Coltrane's "Blue Train."

I also picked up The Doors' "Break on Through" in one of Englert's bass lines, and without matching anything exactly, Boone blasted out some Jimi Hendrix-type riffs.

About 40 minutes into the performance, Glover—who had been the only dancer to that point—was joined by Marshall Davis, Jr. and Robyn Watson.

Both are outstanding tap dancers in their own right, and had featured far more prominently in Glover's sTePz show at the Harris in 2014.

Davis was also part of Savion's Bare Soundz production I'd seen at North Central College in 2008.

Watching the three of them onstage together—foot drumming individually, in pairs and all at once—was exhilarating, and hearkened to past Glover showcases involving considerably more group tapping.

But Davis and Watson were offstage after just 10 minutes or so, leaving Savion to provide a whole lot of sole on his own.

He and Dance Candy sizzled on the last two numbers of the night—actually afternoon, as the show began at 4:00pm at the tail of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

A full run through Michael Jackson's "Beat It" took me back to 1983, when MJ ruled the world and enlisted Eddie Van Halen to add a blazing guitar solo, which Boone did a nice job with as Reed sang and Glover stomped gloriously almost non-stop.

Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," by way of Whitney Houston and, here, Samantha Reed, closed out a 75-minute performance that was sensational in every foot-tapping-at-the-speed-of-sound moment.

In having introduced Savion, the Mac's Executive Director Diana Martinez noted that Glover would be conducting a Master Class for some COD dance students after his performance.

I can only imagine that was incredibly enlightening, as was Lane Alexander's lecture beforehand.

Though I absolutely loved what I witnessed, I've never been great at interpreting messages of Interpretive Dance, and apart from Glover's spirituality and musicianship, I can't say I discerned any cogent themes on Sunday.

Allison, who had turned me onto Glover—who I've now seen live six times, originally in Bring In 'Da Noise Bring In 'Da Funk, which told the story of black history—also didn't discern any narrative thread to ALL FuNKD' UP, but noted that much of the music driving it was by gifted performers who had died relatively young.

John Coltrane, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison.

I don't know if a tangible statement tied to this truth was intended by Savion Glover or Dance Candy, as much as mainly just to get "all funkd up" to music they hold dear.

But exacerbated by the blur Glover became in most of the photos I took of him, I couldn't help but be reminded that life is fleeting, especially for many of our most visionary performers.

While he seems as spry and fantastic as ever, it is with such ephemerality in mind I strongly advocate that any chance you get to see the extraordinary Savion Glover, you really shouldn't miss out.

He's that singular.

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