On Tap

Bring In 'da Noise, Bring In 'da Funk

choreography by Savion Glover. conceived and directed by George C. Wolfe. at the Ambassador Theatre, New York City

Savion Glover
Savion Glover; drawing by David Levine

For years you couldn’t go to a tap-dance revue in New York without seeing a skinny little boy named Savion Glover brought on at the end to do improvisation. Maybe Glover didn’t have time to work up a regular number, for he was a busy child, a star on Broadway from the age of twelve (The Tap Dance Kid, Black and Blue, Jelly’s Last Jam). He also danced in movies and on TV, and presumably he had some homework to do in between. But often it seemed that the reason he couldn’t be programed alongside the other acts was that he so outshone them.

“Savion is possibly the best tap dancer that ever lived,” Gregory Hines recently told The New Yorker.1 The odd thing is that this was true ten years ago, when Glover was twelve. His foot seemed to have about eight mobile parts. He was a whole band. And what speed he had! He could run you up and down long staircases of sound in ten seconds. He was witty too, tucking tiny, sharp sounds into long, soft ones or, when he got to a clear stopping point, pushing the dance over a hump and sending it down a whole new road.

Like all child prodigies, however, he was a little strange, for he wasn’t yet old enough to make art out of this huge talent—get it to say something instead of everything. As an adolescent he was even more disquieting. While dancing, he would bend over and look at the floor. He didn’t seem to realize he was in front of an audience. Occasionally, he would pause in the middle of a routine and just stare out into some corner of the auditorium, as if waiting for his next idea. He didn’t know when to get off the stage, either. People had to signal him from the wings: “Wrap it up, Savion.” Also, he broke things. Once, I remember, his hand got caught in a string of beads he was wearing, and the beads flew like buckshot all over the stage. The musicians had to duck. Other times, the taps would fly off his shoes (more ducking). And at this point he was bringing down his feet so hard that it seemed he would break through the floorboards.

A smoldering teen-ager, with unparalleled gifts—what would he make of himself? one asked. Now, with his choreography for Bring In ‘da Noise, Bring In ‘da Funk, which has just opened on Broadway after a three-month run at New York’s Public Theater, he has answered.

Conceived and directed by George C. Wolfe, the producer of the Public Theater, Noise is as politically pointed as other shows that Wolfe has directed (Angels in America) or written and directed (Jelly’s Last Jam). On its surface, it is the tale of the Africans’ exile in America, from the arrival of the slave ships…

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