tv Tavis Smiley PBS September 17, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PDT
good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight we continue our week-long celebration. some of the world's most acclaimed dancers and longtime viewers of this program already know i've always been fascinated with dance. as one of the cast members of "dancing with the stars" my conversations with the dancers take on added dimension for me. it's always enlightening to hear from the best about how they do what they do. i can only hope some of their stardust will rub off on me. we'll begin font with the wonderful chita rivera, created the roles of anit>ak in west si story, rose in bye-bye bier rdi and velma kelly in chicago. then we'll turn to a conversation with another extraordinary dancer, maurice hines, for some 40 years has redefined particularly american art of tap dancing. we're glad you've joined us. conversations with chita rivera and maurice hines coming up
performing six decades now turning out extraordinary performances in "west side story." "chicago." "kiss the spider woman." and "sweet charity." earned nine tony award nominations and won as best actress on a musical twice. her 81st birthday. stay right there, jonathan, on that face. nobody believes this. i don't believe it. >> thank you. >> and she's celebrating with a tour of a one-woman show, chita, a legendary celebration. let's take a look. ♪ and if you find that you'll land in jail ♪ ♪ come up here ♪ play with me ♪ play with me ♪
>> let me just start with the obvious. what is the secret to staying in this good of shape? >> prayer. prayer. >> i'm praying every day, and i need more prayers. there's got to be more to it than just prayer. you must have a serious regiment. >> i have a blessed life. i really do. i have a great family. a great daughter. i love life. i love living. i love people. i love all the blessings that god's given me. you know? i -- i appreciate it, and i work at it, and it's all work. you know? and i love to -- the spirit of dance is an amazing thing. >> yeah. >> when the body and the spirit meet. you know, it's a good thing. >> when did you know that this was your gift, your calling?
>> i was a tom boy and used to break up the furniture of the00 and i was one of five. and in washington, d.c. and my mother said, we got to, you know, straighten this kid out. so she put focus into my life. and there was a school. i owe everything to doris jones who was my bal ballet teacher, from doris jones, louis johnson and i, who was the first black ballet dancer in new york city ballet, so we won scholarships from mrs. jones to go back to boston. and she was just the most -- she was like my second mother, and she was just the best teacher in the world, so she directed us to new york city, and new york city ballet. so, that's how it got started. you know? i -- i won an audition to "call me madam." called and asked miss jones what
she thought about it and asked my mother, and they said it's okay. so i veered from ballet to the theater. and i really appreciated so much of it, and i've been so busy. it's important that the kids stay busy. it's important that they have something to focus on. and something that they feel good about. and so i really attempted to be -- to enjoy my own life, but to be able to be some sort of guide. some sort of example so that the kids know that they can do it. somebody can do it, they can do it, you know? so, you know, i'm backed up with lots of good stuff. you know? good teachers. good friends. good angels. all sorts of good stuff. >> before i jump too fast, say a word to me, if you will, about what the challenges were, or to the contrary what the joys were, of being people of color doing this back then. your teacher's black. >> right. >> your partner, your dance
partner is black. >> right. >> you're latino. what was it like in that moment? >> well, when i won the scholarship, miss jones went with me. and i'll never forget her saying -- i mean, we're walking through the halls of the school in the american valley, and i'm looking around and i'm seeing all of these beautiful, tall, thin, blond, blue-eyed girls and i'm saying to her, miss jones, i feel a little funny around here. she looked right in my eyes and said, chita, you stick to your lane. you just do what you do. you don't look left. you don't look right. you look straight ahead. and you just be you. be the child that i brought up. and that just stuck in my mind. stick to your lane. don't look this way or that way. and it gave me some identity. it gave me some identity. so, i -- i really never felt any
tremendous aggravation or separation. i just went on with my work, tavis, you know? and i didn't put anything else in my head. i mean, i remember people saying, i thought she'd have an accent, you know, stuff like that. but i just let it go off because somehow along the line miss jones had told me to just stick to what i am and to what i do. >> but it seems to me that certainly back then, it's easier to accomplish what you have done if there's somebody to look up to. if there's some role model. >> oh, yes. >> in so many ways, you're the pioneer here. >> that's lovely. thank you. i mean -- >> i'm not being -- it's a fact. i'm trying to figure out how it is you managed to do that without having a lot of people around you who did, in fact, look like you to give you some sense that -- >> i grew up thinking i was a human being. >> uh-huh.
>> i was a part of the world. miss jones taught me that i was a part of the world. and, you know, that's about it. i mean, i sound very naive sometimes, but i do believe that separation is -- can be a bit damaging at times. to be happy about yourself and your culture, and all of that is necessary and fulfilling, but the whole tapestry is what's important. >> i'm fascinated by that, chita, in part because i think the -- i'll allow myself 30 seconds. >> that's cool. >> part of what troubles me about the world we live in today is a message as basic and rudimentary and fundamental as you are a human being, and nothing in the world ought to be foreign to you. >> uh-huh.
>> that message, i think, so often does not get told to, and whatever reason, doesn't resonate to poor black and brown children. >> i know. yeah. i know. i -- well, like you said before, they have to have someone to look up to. they've got to have their time filled with something that they really want -- they have to have the opportunity. you know? it if it hadn't been for miss jones, i don't know what would have happened to me, you know, in d.c. so a world was opened up to me. so that's why i feel very responsible now. i still go around and do my show. now i'm talking about not just cultures, but age. now i'm talking about age. that you -- what is a number? a number is only a number. it's how you feel and what you still want to translate. it's all about communication. it's all about sharing who you are. i know i sound naive, tavis.
>> not to me, you don't. >> you know, i'm really not, but i am young in my energy because i really still believe, you know, that we can -- we can share who we are. and we can wipe off on each other. when i see the huge tapestry, you know, when we're born and this red blob that's your soul, your heart, and your life is your painting by the end of it. and mine is just all colors. mine's everything. i mean, i'm bugged because i can't believe -- i can't speak every language there is. but i feel i can when i sit and am with somebody. and i can dance for them. because dance is dialogue without language. you know what i mean? >> uh-huh.
>> i want to make sense on the "tavis smiley show." i want to make sense. i do not want to be a fool on this show. >> trust me, i'm guilty sometimes of not making sense on my own show. >> you are not. >> i love that. the way you phrase that. that dance is a way to communicate. >> totally. >> beyond language barriers. >> way, way beyond it. >> with all the talent and all of the gift that's present in this body of yours, why this extreme love for theater? so much so that you haven't even really tried so much to branch out beyond it? >> i love the theater because the theater is alive. the audience is right there. you can feel them. you can hear them. you can -- they respond immediately. it's like taking a plug, putting it in the wall and the lights come on and there they are. it changes. some people say, how can you be in the theater and stay in the show for a year when it's the same thing, same words. no, it's not. the audience is different.
you wake up the next morning, you feel different. the words come out just a little bit different. it's a different breath every day. every day is a different thing. so i like that challenge. and it's enough for me. >> when you look back at these various characters that you, you know, first played, what do you make of that? >> it blows me away. >> it's a serious rundown. i mean, any one of those. >> no, that's true. that's absolutely true. and i'm beginning to be a bit more comfortable because i'm really acknowledging them now. because it's a lot of them. i do -- i did come along at a great time. they call it the golden age. you know? where every single theater was filled with a hit. i came along. i'm paying for it now because i'm -- years old.
i give a lot of the credit to the fact that i did come along at that time when the bernsteins and the robins and the cy colemans and all of these amazing people created all of these things. so i give myself credit for continuing and doing the best of my ability to help make these shows hits, but they created them. they created them. they made them happen, and i was there to receive it. so, it's a -- it's a mixture of all of it. life is a mixture of all of it. >> i'm glad that you have -- that you chose the theater and you stuck with it and you blessedbless ed us in innumerable ways with this artistic genius with yours, yet the flip side of all that is, any artist on broadway watching, will say, i can hear it now, you don't get rich necessarily by staying in the theater.
i just had angela here not long ago. she was very clear, the primary reason she took "murder she wrote" because at some point in her life she needed to make some money. >> i wish i had had that. >> i love your devotion to the theater. you're not homeless, thank god. that's a lot of money to leave on the table. >> it is, but what you don't have, you don't miss. y and what you've got, your cherish. you cherish. you keep giving if your very, very best. because that responsibility -- you owe responsibility to yourself also. you want to feel good when you go to bed at night. you want to feel good about yourself. and when some kid walks up to you and says, i want to dance because i love the way you dance, and i want to -- or i have become a dancer because of all whatever in the business,
that makes you feel good because every single person is valuable. a full -- 12 people in a theater are as important as a full house. >> i love that. talk about this one-woman show we saw a clip at the top of this conversation. >> well, it's a lot -- it's stories from, you know, the shows that i've done, and they're wonderful stories because they involve wonderful people. unbelievably creative people who have got me where i am. and it's a lot of fun. i love to laugh. i love the joy of life. and i love sharing it. and i move. i kind of like that. i never liked the way i look. i don't -- i never -- >> you look good to me. >> i like that. i'm like, okay, that hat looks good. >> the wig especially looks hot. >> the dress looks good. you said you like my shoes. >> the shoes. i'm just impressed you do that in heels at 81. i'm just completely blown away by that.
>> you keep saying that. >> you know what, i kind of talk myself into believing it. i'm looking at you. i just don't believe it. that's why i keep saying it. can i just say, this has been one of the great joys of my life to sit here with you at this time? >> tavis, you, i told you, i'm -- you know, this is another thing for chita. >> when i get to be where you are at -- years of age, i hope i have half the spunk that you have. >> well, you will. just look at that wall out there with all those people. >> which you're about to be on now. >> yes. >> chita rivera just made the wall at the tavis smiley, in the hallway. maureenice hines put on a p of tap shoes at the tender age of 5. he'd go home and teach his younger brother, gregory, everything he learned.
maurice pays tribute to many of the performers he worked with including his brother who died sadly back in 2003. in a new show called "maurice hines is tapping through life" which is now on tour. the show covers more than 40 years of his exceptional artistry and also introduces a new generation of tap dancers. john and leo, is it? manzeri. have to get that right. let's take a look at scenes from the show. >> hey, d.c., i'm back. ♪ ♪ >> just like you to introduce some new tappers. >> oh, yes.
got to keep the youth together. they make me feel younger. when you dance with them, they really do, they give you that energy and that positivity and the kind of tap which we do which is rhythm tap dancing created by john bubbles. it's a form of tap that is just spectacular. >> these two brothers, tell me about them. >> phenomenal. i found i was doing "sophisticated ladies of washington" teaching at the duke alington school of jazz hip hop cross. one of the ones, leo with the curls. i saw the curls jump up in the back. i went down, he hurt his ankle doing some of my choreography. i said, are you okay? his brother said, my brother is okay. i looked, i said, brothers? whoa. i said, can you tap? he got ahold of himself. he said, i can tap. i'll tell you if you can tap. >> i'll tell you if you can tap or not. >> he came in and they tapped unbelievable, plus they do everything. they do jazz, ballet, everything. i always wanted dancers like that. i discovered savion glover. savion just wanted to tap.
but my brother, god rest his soul, he said, maurice, one day you'll find the dancers that you like. when i found them, i saw gregory smiling at me. he said, i told you. i said, you were right. >> what made savion right for gregory and gregory right for savion? >> greg never wanted to do anything but tap. i went into ballet and jazz. gregory sang, too. i knew savion just wanted to tap. i said, i'm the wrong one for you. it would frustrate me. gregory was the right one because that's all he wanted to do ever. that's why i was the wrong one and gregory was the right one. >> speaking of gregory singing, this would not surprise you, if i walked in my dressing room right now, i can prove this to you so you know i'm not lying about this. on my ipod, i got the best of luke of andros. you know what i listen to all the time? >> gregory. that song "nothing better than love" gregory did together? >> we both learned how to sing,
because our parents didn't have money for singing lessons. >> right. >> during those times. so, nigh mother said, okay, here's what you do. you listen to two singers. nan king cole and johnny math th this. when i sing on the stage, my style was closer to nat's because i idolized him. some people said -- to me, i am fabulous. it's because of nat king cole. and all the singers in the show i paid tribute to. lina horn who was to me the ultimate. you can't -- i mean, when i saw lina and her music, that's the greatest performance i ever saw. that's the most perfect i ever saw her. how she handled the mike, walked to the mike. all those things that you think you know, you see that beyond anything. and then johnny mathis' voice is exceptional and still is exceptional. so we learn from the great people. my father originally said, when you're around those people,
you're working with julie garland, ella fitzgerald, you have nothing to say. you say nothing. you sit there and listen. when people come up to me, i was just in atlanta. maurice, you're fabulous. yes, i am, because i listen to them. because without the ellas and linas and people we knew, my god. we don't come out the wound knowing. the kids today seem to think they know everything right away. gregory and i never did. >> know everything and are entitled to everything. >> everything. that's what happened to a friend of mine, they came in entitled. a buddy of mine who directed "motown" which is a great show, that's what he feels they all feel. when he was in "dream girls" -- i laugh -- gregory and i used to laugh about stuff. when gregory and i had a television series, he said, maurice, this is so easy, all they do is complain about how hard they're working. we did the "playboy's club" five shows a night, no day off. when people start complaining to
me, what? you better be grateful you're here. >> two quick stories. two quick thoughts, i should say. one, it is harder to find anyone better as you said at phraseology, diction, enunciation. johnny matheson and nat king cole. >> the ultimate. >> those two guys have never sang a word that you didn't understand what they were saying. >> that's right. >> it's so clear. >> oh, so clear. >> so beautiful. >> those singers were like that. in fact, i invited johnny mathis. >> ever met johnny mathis? great guy. >> almost did in philadelphia. i want to thank him from the stage. >> it's hard to imagine all you and gregory have done you haven't met mathis. >> i watch your show a lot. you talk about your mother a lot. in my show, my show has evolved into a love letter from my mother. my mother that nurtured gregory and i. she had the vision. is she had the vision for her sons. i say that in my show.
at the end of the show, i sing this song. my father went along for the ride now. he did. but she had the vision. i think she's just too marvelous. we found pictures of her when she was 16, young, when she met my father, and it was emotional. it was a very emotional show for me, but it keeps my family with me because they're all together. >> yeah. >> you see, i'm not lonely anymore. i was very lonely without them for a long time, and -- >> you still miss gregory every day. >> oh, yeah. yeah. i do. especially now. because i'm having such success with this show. about my family. that i would call him up, gregory, guess what happened? we'd call each other. i really miss him. i say it on the show. i say it. i miss my brother. i have pictures of us dancing in "sophisticated ladies." a wonderful show. >> i can't wait to see it. >> you got to see it. >> can i tell your age? because you don't look it at all. >> i can tell it. 70. >> you don't look if. where do you get this age at 70? >> i'm really happy.
i refuse to have negativity around me. that includes family. if i have some negative family, they got to go. they got to go. >> i love it. i love it. >> all the people around me are like that. >> right. >> you know, especially -- see, in the dance world, i'm a choreograph choreographer, a dancer. when you're with dancers, it's heaven. and so, like i direct. i just directed -- i just directed a life story of ella fitzgerald. >> love frida payne. >> she's singing in ella's key. people just think of "band of gold." no, she started as a jazz singer. so, when i'm directing actors, it's different. they have to have motivation. dancers, bust a step. they don't come with no moods. that's what i love because i'm like that. i can't wait to get on that stage. i can't wait. once i saw the theater and got all these women behind me playing, and they're playing, baby, they are playing. i've been with the orchestra for 20 years. don't have 15 here. i have nine.
they're playing like their 15. every show is different. if you have a little laryngitis. gregory used to say when we borked together, i don't have to worry about getting the audience, maurice gets the audience, he grabs them by the float so i can be funny. i don't have to worry about it. i walk out, hey, everybody. i'm here in town. so i'm going to see it. i hope you will, too. have a great run. >> thank you. >> welcome to los angeles. >> thank you, my man. >> that's our show for tonight. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for oscar tony grammy and emmy winner rita moreno. that's next time. we'll see you then.