While music and movement work seamlessly together in most great dance performances, rarely is the dialogue between the two forms as intimate, as vigorously alive or as spontaneous as in “Classical Savion,” the dazzling new show from tap wizard Savion Glover, premiering at the Joyce before embarking on a national tour in March. It may have been two decades since Glover turned heads on Broadway at age 12 in “The Tap Dance Kid,” but he is as limber, innovative and generous a performer as ever. His indefatigable feet here become as vital a component of the orchestra as any of the accomplished musicians onstage.
Other tappers have wedded the uniquely American dance style to the stately rhythms of classical music, but Glover significantly furthers the marriage. At times he respectfully traces the shape of the music with his moves; sometimes he reveals hidden, syncopated beats not immediately apparent. Frequently, his dancing departs entirely from the classical pieces in loose improvisations that tap out a parallel rhythm track yet somehow remain a fluid extension of the music. Watching this explo-ration take place is pure rapture.
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A willowy figure with an unruly bundle of dreadlocks, Glover breezes onto the stage like a slow-moving locomotive before gathering steam as he gallops and stomps through the first of four excerpts from the Summer, Autumn and Winter movements of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Summer gives way to a rubber-limbed shuffle in the second, autumnal movement, with the dancer’s feet at one point stuttering like type-writer keys. Through the third and fourth movements Glover shuffles elastically, then bounces back to life, becoming more urgent and athletic through the final excerpt from Winter.
It’s an exhilarating start to a performance so bracingly physical it makes your joints ache just watching.
From Vivaldi, the 10-piece string and harpsichord orchestra makes a logical segue into Argen-tine composer Astor Piazzola’s take on the “Four Seasons,” the music’s dark, manic rhythms matched by the near-violence of Glover’s wild, off-kilter move-ments.
A selection of Bach pieces starts with the Partita in E Major, in which Glover becomes a kind of jackhammer percussion instru-ment, and continues with a gorgeous soft-shoe shuffle, the dancer’s scraping, sliding feet overlaying new textures onto “Air” from Suite No. 3. This interlude serves as a delicate homage to the late Gregory Hines, whose spotlit framed photograph stands on the piano in silent tribute.
Soaking up the rhythms and rechanneling them with keen understanding of dance as well as musical nuance and structure, Glover not only continues to redefine tap but also shakes the dust off classical music to uncover new vitality in the pieces.
Boisterous passages from Bartok and Mendelssohn serve as a bridge to the final part of the program, shifting from classical to John Coltrane-inspired improvised jazz as the orchestra is joined onstage by jazz ensemble the Otherz, led by Tommy James.
Titled “The Stars & Stripes Forever (For Now),” and de-scribed by Glover as “a celebrated meditation,” this sinuous jazz symphony serves initially for the dancer to introduce each musician onstage, allowing for some virtuoso solo work. As the classical and jazz players riff off each other with playful verve, the piece evolves and assumes darker tones — echoed in Brenda Gray’s stylish lighting design — while Glover hammers out a brooding, ambigu-ous interpretation of war and power that gives new punishment to the wooden platform on which most of the dancing takes place.
Glover’s characteristic performance mode of facing away from the audience is here more pronounced than ever as he often dances directly to the orchestra, to conductor Robert Sadin and to individual musicians, with all parties clearly delighting in the interchange. In fact, Glover’s serene smile, his supple grace and his giving manner in acknowledging his musical collaborators might make the dancer’s job look effortless were it not for the sweat-drenched shirts he changes throughout the show.
Playing at the Joyce through Jan. 23, “Classical Savion” officially opens its eight-week, 35-city tour with a one-week engagement March 22-26 at the Kodak in Los Angeles, returning to New York in May for two nights at the Apollo.