I just got back from a three-show day in NYC. I hadn't planned on blogging about any of the shows -- I wanted to just sit back and enjoy on this trip -- but as I sat watching one of them, I grew increasingly irritated, furious even, and left frustrated that I didn't have an avenue through which to vent my anger.
The irksome show was Savion Glover's OM, a dance piece being presented at the Joyce Theater. I've long admired Glover's dancing, particularly in Jelly's Last Jam and Bring in da Noize, Bring in da Funk. Plus, I had seen everything that's currently on Broadway, and had a open show slot, so I figured I'd broaden my horizons a bit, albeit within the proximate realm of musical theater.
Well, pardon me if I vent, but Savion Glover's OM may just be most infuriating 90 minutes I've ever endured. End-to-end annoyance, from stem to stern. The show started with the house lights going to half, followed by seven-plus minutes of recorded free-form jazz, with the house lights still at half. (Wasn't the act of subjecting unwitting victims to free-form jazz outlawed at the Geneva Convention?) We all sat wondering whether there was something wrong backstage. It was sort of like waiting for the second shoe to drop, or the next drop to come from an irregularly dripping faucet. Profoundly annoying.
Finally the curtain rose, revealing a set with a series of platforms, hundreds of battery-powered candles, and pictures of famous tappers and religious figures, including Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. (Cuz Savion's deep, you see.) Now, what Jimmy Slyde and Gregory Hines have to do with Tibet or passive resistance I can only guess at. Savion entered, followed by a troupe of acolytes who sat down and proceeded to actively pray onstage throughout the entire piece. Yes, pray.
What followed was 80 minutes of mind-numbingly repetitious tapping, mostly from Savion, accompanied by eastern chant music with no discernible downbeat. Frequently throughout the piece, the tapping built to an ear-splitting crescendo of machine-gun-like intensity. It was as though Glover had just discovered Phillip Glass and Buddhism, and decided that an entire show of him doing the same thing over and over might make him look avant-garde and super spiritual.
There were four other dancers on stage, but only one of them got any chance to dance in between Savion's self-aggrandizing ministrations. They were all on platforms that seemed to be designed to make their taps as loud as possible. Savion fell in love with a particular spot on his platform, which produced taps as loud as a rifle shot, and spent what seemed like ten minutes working it, like a child who has just discovered that the spoon makes a loud sound against the bowl. This auditory assault might have been bearable had there been any discernible larger meaning to the show. I counted 11 people who left before the end. If I handn't been in the middle of a long row, I would have left, too.
Yes, Savion is an amazing tapper. But his virtuosity only carries a piece so far. How about some actual movement? Some genuine meaning? Some discernible point of view? A chance to see somebody else get a tap in edgewise? I suppose it's possible that he was trying to achieve some kind of Zen-inspired irony, or trying to strip away everything but the beat as part of some effort to live in the moment, or whatever. It would appear that Mr. Glover could use someone like George C. Wolfe, who conceived and directed both Jelly's and Noize, to help in shape his ideas and place his admitted talents into a meaningful context. Very little of the dance seemed planned in advance, but was rather improvisational. Which means I spent good money (no press tix this time) to watch Savion Glover play around.
After 80 minutes of non-stop irritation, the show finally ended, but the curtain call seemed awkwardly timed. The curtain didn't come back up for bows until most people in the audience had already stopped clapping. Then, darkness and silence. The house lights never came up. I talked to the house manager, who said that this was a directorial choice on Glover's part. I mean, is that even legal? To force an audience to fumble awkwardly for the exit in the dark? Was Glover deliberately trying to alienate as much of his fan base as possible? Or was he merely being pretentious?
So, self-indulgent pseudo-spirituality, mind-numbing repetition, painfully loud sound, and a chance to break my neck on the way out. Thanks, Savion.