BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Baakari Wilder
Today's subject Baakari Wilder will be living his theatre life this Saturday evening onstage at the Kennedy Center as part of LOTUS, a tribute to the art of tap dancing.
Baakari is internationally known for starring in the Broadway musical Bring In da Noise, Bring In da Funk. He received a Bessie Award for his performance, and later assumed the lead role for a year. At the age of twelve he opened a a star-studded tap review at the Kennedy Center that included the legendary Brenda Bufalino, Sandman Simms, Harold Nicholas, and Savion Glover. He was the first recipient of the Steve Condos Award, created by Lorraine Condos in honor of her late husband. At sixteen Baakari became a member of Savion Glover's tap group Real Tap Skills, consisting of three other tap dancers from the metropolitan area. His dancing has been seen around the world in places such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, France, Africa, Brazil, Germany, and Japan. You might have seen him in Spike Lee's Bamboozled, Discovery Channel's Time Warp, or as a guest performer on FOX channel's So You Think You Can Dance.
When not dancing or teaching dance Baakari can be found on our local stages as an actor. Past appearances include The Water Engine at Spooky Action Theater, Unexplored Interiors at Mosaic Theater Company, The Piano Lesson at Olney Theatre Center, and Conrack at Ford's Theatre.
Baakari has a Bachelors of Arts degree in Theatre from the University of Maryland (UMD) at College Park and is recipient of the 2014 Pola Nirenska Award for Achievement in Dance.
Tap dance is a true American art form and we should be thankful that dancers like Baakari Wilder are keeping the tradition of tap vibrant and alive for the next generation. Here is a guy fortunate enough to either meet or perform with some of the legends of tap when he was first starting out. Now Baakari is passing that knowledge on. LOTUS pays homage to some of Baakari's heroes, and for those of you attending, I'm sure it is going to be an unforgettable evening of dance.
At what age did you start taking dance lessons?
At age 3. My father thought it would be a good idea to focus on my timing. Performing was something I always enjoyed from an early age. I sang in choir as well and studied arts in school. I was fortunate to have great teachers that taught me about the legends of tap such as Bill Robinson and Gregory Hines. Over time I got to meet some of them at one big tap festival. I got a rich education and was fortunate to be living when the legends of tap were alive.
Growing up, who would you say was the most influential in you becoming a dancer?
It was definitely my tap teachers Yvonne Edwards and Renee Kreithen. I first wanted to be like Gregory Hines. I had a close relationship with Savion Glover as well. Jimmy Slide was an elder and a father figure and talked about life in reference to the dance.
How did LOTUS come into being?
It is made up of my colleagues that I grew up with - some I have known since I was ten years old. We grew up in dance studios together. We were all the same age and we crossed paths in many ways including Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk. There was lots of room for improv on that show. We grew as friends and have lots of love and respect for each other. It is a great opportunity to all work together on the same stage.
Can you please tell us a little bit about what audiences will see in your program at the Kennedy Center?
It will be a mixture of choreography from each of the performers. It will feature moments of improv, group, and solos put together with an overlying theme. The show pays homage to the legends of tap but also points out current events, such as the African American struggle etc., through the dance. It is honoring and educating the audience about the dance. You're always educating when you are performing.
What is it about the art form of tap dance that makes it so timeless
It's the combo of music and movement which are both timeless. The body moves in many ways and the way you translate the movement is what makes it universal and timeless to everyone. The imagination is limitless.
You were part of the original Broadway and off-Broadway premiere of Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk. Can you please talk a little bit about putting that show together? Was that the first time you had worked with Savion Glover?
It was not the first time. He had taught some residencies in DC prior to that show and we danced some pieces at the end of that residency. He also had some tap groups I was part of in his teenage years. He asked me to do the workshop at the Public. I quit school to be a part of it. I was only 17. It was fun gathering up his rhythms and improvs. It was a great journey and being around Director George C. Wolfe was a great experience.
You also have performed locally in The Water Engine at Spooky Action Theater, which is as far from tap as you can get. Do you enjoy performing in non- dance shows every once in a while?
Yes I do. I have my degree in acting from UMD. I love straight plays even more than musicals. I have worked at Mosaic Theater Company and performed August Wilson and Master Harold and the Boys at the Bay Theatre. I am very passionate and fearful about acting. I am more comfortable with tap. I am putting together a show at Dance Place right now that is both a dance and theatre piece with my company Metro Tap Roots so it's the best of both worlds.
What advice can you give to a young dancer just breaking into the business?
Keep practicing. Listen to your elders. Find your own voice as a dancer and keep your ability to learn from others as that muscle can dwindle. Don't teach too early in life. Watch any documented history of the art form that you can. Talk to other dancers. Don't stand by yourself.
Special thanks to Kennedy Center's dance publicist Brittany Laeger for her assistance in coordinating this interview.
Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.