Snappy Tapping

Savion Glover, choreographer and star of Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in' da Funk, has been called the best tap dancer alive. His work certainly made an impression on Denver's Thaddeus Phillips, creator of extraordinary experimental theater pieces and a tapper himself.

"He basically learned when he was so young, and his technique is so perfect, that he can do anything," says Phillips.

Phillips remembers seeing Glover in a solo concert tour, dancing to the music of John Coltrane. "He's really a very complicated jazz musician with his feet. His sense of rhythm and understanding of what he can do is like one of the best jazz musicians in the world."

Glover began his career at the age of eleven, starring in the Tap Dance Kid on Broadway. He later appeared opposite Gregory Hines in Jelly's Last Jam; Public Theatre director George C. Wolfe came up with the idea for Bring in 'da Noise when he saw Glover rehearsing. The show opened on Broadway in 1996, garnering ecstatic reviews and a slew of Tony nominations: Glover won for choreography and Wolfe for direction. The show uses tap (as well as hip-hop, blues and percussion) to tell the history of black people in America, from slavery to contemporary city life. The dancing is loud, rough-driven and exuberant.

Marda Kirn, director of the International Tap Association uses words like "extraordinary" and "genius" to describe Glover. She has some advice for those planning to attend Noise/Funk: "Don't look -- listen," she says. "The dancers are talking to you with their feet."

Still, most Americans know about tap through Hollywood musicals that feature dancers like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. "The color bar prevented the great black tap artists from playing roles other than butlers or porters," Kirn says. Noise in fact features a dance mocking Bill "Bojangles" Robinson for his 1930s movie performances with Shirley Temple. Despite their overall admiration of Glover, both Kirn and Phillips find this sequence somewhat painful. "With black power, artists like Bojangles were seen as copping out rather than taking what they could have and doing something brilliant with it," she says. "They broke the color bar and made it possible for people to dance today."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman