Celebrated tapper Savion Glover brings buckets of noise and plenty of funk to town
I knew this from the start. 'Bring in 'Da Noise' would have to have in it everything I'd learned, onstage, offstage, about the dance, about the theater, about the audience. And every style of dance came out of me: soft shoe, ragtime, all of it.'
Ñ Savion Glover, 'My Life In Tap'
Shiggy, diggy, diggy, diggy-boom! Rat-tata- tat-tata-tat-TAT!
That's the indescribable rap of tap dancer Savion Glover hittin' the floor.
Tap legend Gregory Hines has compared Glover's talent to NBA great Michael Jordan. But even that doesn't quite capture it, Hines has said since, because Glover has redefined tap dancing.
In many ways, Glover is a living history of all the great tappers who came before him Ñ old cats like Chuck Green, Honi Coles, and Jimmy Slyde.
Many of the greats taught Glover their steps when he was a boy coming up through the ranks. Now, he carries their steps and their wisdom inside him, sharing what he knows with the next generation of young tap talent.
When Glover taps, it's faster, louder and more thrilling than anything you're likely to see. Glover must have drum sets down inside his feet: You'll hear the hi-hat, snare, cymbals, tom-tom, bass drum, all in dizzying combinations. His feet are the drums, and his shoes are the sticks. Beyond that, it's pure genius at work.
Glover's four-time Tony-award winning show, 'Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk' is a celebration of tap. No Ñ it's a history of America told through tap. No Ñ it's a history of slavery set to an urban beat. Whatever you want to call it, it's all there.
When it comes to tap dance, it's all about the live performance. 'Noise' mixes in singing, poetry and film footage Ñ but, overall, the production is pared down and delivered straight up.
Glover co-created the show with George C. Wolfe in '95. The two men met on Broadway when they were cast in 'Jelly's Last Jam.'
Glover grew up in the New York City's performing arts scene. His mom has said that she felt him banging away from inside the womb and he was hitting out rhythms by the age of 2. She knew she had to get him into a music school for gifted kids.
First he went as a drummer, which led to his eventual discovery as a dance prodigy. His skills landed him a five-year role on TV's 'Sesame Street,' among numerous other gigs.
These days, Glover's Tony awards live with his mom in New Jersey for safekeeping.
Hoofin', hittin' and hip-hop
Reached on tour, Glover talked about being back Ñ after a four-year absence Ñ with the show he choreographed and about being on the road again in front of pumped up crowds.
'Sometimes they're hyped,' Glover agrees. 'Sometimes they're a little more laid-back and a little more conservative.
'I guess one of my favorite moments is still the Green, Chaney, Buster, Slyde; I pay homage with that one.'
Glover, 30, is sometimes called a 'hip-hop tapper,' but he doesn't really agree with the classification. 'I try to allow my feet to speak all types of languages, not only the language of hip-hop,' he says. 'Whether it's jazz, classical, whatever Ñ I like to think that my feet speak a universal language.'
When it comes to choreography, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? 'Sometimes I hear a song and I think, 'I want to choreograph to that.' Sometimes I hear the dance first, and the music comes later.'
Glover and his fellow tappers have been known to speak entire conversations in beats and steps, such as, 'shigga-digga-digga-Bop-uh!-Pop-uh!' Asked what that string of 'words' might mean, Glover says it would depend on who's saying it and how it's delivered. In other words, some sentiments are best expressed in rhythm.
'Stealing steps' is another form of sly, playful back-and-forth that goes on when tappers get together and show each other their moves. Stealing can be a way of complimenting someone, on one hand, or roasting them on the other.
'We all steal them and give them back, and flip them and reverse them,' Glover says. 'The purpose is still to steal it, claim it and make it your own. Then when you show it to them, they can recognize it and then see what you've done with it.
'It's all done through the dance: The dance speaks. Someone, they can do a step like, right in front you, and you go out right after them Ñ real slow Ñ saying to them in this way, 'You haven't really got it yet.' You break it down and that's like saying, 'Keep working on it,'' Glover says with a chuckle.
Who's out there robbing his style right now? He laughs and says, 'I don't know who, but if they are, I'm gonna find out, I'm gonna find out!'
Glover has big feet for a dancer, size 12 1/2 EE. He protects these most important of assets with rather modest footware. 'I wear my boots,' he says, 'my Timberland boots. That's it. That pretty much keeps them safe and in good health.'
Tapping into history
Glover himself is immersed in the history of tap and is passing on what he knows to the younger dancers.
'Basically, I try to teach them the same things these older guys have shown to me,' he says. 'I try to talk to them more, not necessarily about the dance but how to be respectable young men and teach them about showmanship. Things to do in the theater and what not do. You know, give them a sense of professionalism.
'A lot of kids come into the theater, and they're oblivious. With this crew, though, everyone's pretty much set. We have a few new heads, and I continue to give notes to them after the show and stuff, but I'll also go in their room and say like: 'Keep your room clean.''
Glover is modest about the fact that he has taken tap to a new level through his own innovations. He simply puts himself in a long line of dancers that contributed to the evolution of tap.
'Let's put it this way: I'm still there. I'm still following in the tradition. Everything I do is like a variation of what I've seen Gregory Hines do, what I've seen Jimmy Slyde do. In my eyes, I'm not doing anything new.'
To which, one can only say, 'Shigga-digga-diggy Bop-uh Buh-bang!