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Savion Glover jazzes up the classics

Dancer brings his noise, funk and tapshoes to classical music
by: ©2006 LEN IRISH, Tap dancer, actor and choreographer Savion Glover has been on stage for over two decades — and he’s only 32.

He's only 32, but Savion Glover has been in his comfort zone as an artist for a long time.

The man - regarded by some as the greatest tap dancer ever - began making magic as a performer at age 10 with his Broadway debut in the musical 'The Tap Dance Kid.'

But countless accolades and awards later, Glover decided it was time for something completely different. In his newest show, 'Classical Savion,' which arrives in Portland tonight for a two-night run, he adapts his furiously improvisational style to the music of Vivaldi, Bach and Mendelssohn.

'It was just the next thing,' he says by phone from Colorado. 'I was trying to come up with concepts. I said, 'Hey, let's do classical.' '

He acknowledges that he is following in the flashy footsteps of other tap greats. 'Many of my pioneers - Leon Collins, Honey Coles - have danced classical,' he says.

Still, adapting to the structured dictates of classical music has given Glover a heightened appreciation for the form.

'I've never been as close to it as I am now,' he says. 'I gained more respect not only for the music but for the composers themselves.'

Energy translates from afar

Glover, who has been known to put himself and fellow artists through exhausting rehearsals and permit himself famously little downtime on stage -the current show runs for an hour and 45 minutes without an intermission - says the learning curve for 'Classical Savion' involved some unorthodox preparations.

'My wife was teasing me because I would go into my room, light about 12 candles and either have 'Amadeus' on the TV or Shostakovich blasting in the dark. That was my training.'

'It is in a class by itself,' Glover says of classical music, which he regards as having a 'majestic' point of view. 'As I do this music nightly, I just become closer to the composer. I try to embody that energy. Besides the energy I bring, I want the audience to relate to the composer.'

'Classical Glover' debuted at New York's Joyce Theater last year. Glover has added a pianist and a drummer to his jazz ensemble, the Otherz, for the tour, which also features a nine-piece chamber group.

He says he's enjoyed watching the different styles of music converge.

'I think it's more challenging for the classical musicians once the jazz is added,' he says. 'They get a little intimidated, but as we go through the show, they become more relaxed. I'll have fun and maybe throw some rhythms at them. I get a funny look, but they have no choice but to adjust.

'It's all music to me. Once we establish a tempo, it's all vibration and sound. I think the relationship between classical and jazz is just that. There is a relationship. There isn't a distance.'

Veteran of stage and screen

Glover starred alongside Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines, an early mentor, in the 1989 film 'Tap.' After a stint as a cast member on 'Sesame Street,' he won a Tony Award for choreographing the Broadway hit 'Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk' in 1996. He starred in the Spike Lee movie 'Bamboozled' in 2000.

A New Jersey native, Glover says he makes no distinctions between performing in the nation's cultural centers or the quieter corners of the map, where, 'if anything, I raise the level of performance.'

'I try to give 110 percent if not 200 percent every night no matter where I am,' he says.

Glover has kind words for Portland, where he has made numerous appearances. 'Portland is our home,' he says. 'We've been there several times, and each time we've been received well.'

The energetic Glover, despite his long years in the business, has no plans to slow himself down as an artist.

'I haven't given that any thought,' he says. 'I don't have a plan. I'm happy performing and doing choreography.'

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'Classical Savion'

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 19-20

Where: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway, 503-245-1600

Cost: $20-$54; also available through Ticketmaster