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    Complete archive, 1999-present

    2018-2019 reviews:


    Garth Fagan

    Don't just remember the mane

    Having won acclaim and a Tony for choreographing "The Lion King," Garth Fagan still seems to have his heart in the mesmerizing small company performing this month at the Joyce.


    Three low-to-the-ground stomps with undulating chest and flailing arms and then a hold-your-breath balance in a high arabesque — this, I've decided, is quintessential Garth Fagan.

    Company: Garth Fagan Dance.
    Directed by: Garth Fagan.
    Dancers: Sharon Skepple, Norwood Pennewell, Natalie Rogers, Steve Humphrey, Valentina Alexander, Christopher Morrison.

    Related links: Official site
    The movement phrase comes about three-quarters of the way through "Prelude," a 1981 piece that opens Program A of the Fagan company's season at the Joyce Theater. Fagan lets us see the phrase over and over again, performed first by a group of men, then all women.

    The sequence is significant for two reasons. First, it's the perfect example of how Fagan seamlessly blends afro-Caribbean, modern and classical dance into something uniquely his own. Second, it's the exact point in the show where he won me over.

    "Prelude" — which has the subtitle "Discipline is Freedom" — is one of those dances based on a dance class. The costumes — leotards and leg warmers — are your first clue that we're in a make-believe practice studio. And, well, it's been done before. A lot. So despite the technical prowess of Fagan's company of 12 dancers, I was skeptical about "Prelude."

    Garth Fagan  
    It builds, though, propelled by the excellent jazz score by Abdullah Ibrahim and Max Roach. By the end, I was mesmerized and much more open to Fagan's genre-bending choreography.

    Fagan is a veteran dance maker who began his career touring Latin America with the national dance company of Jamaica. As a young performer, he studied with Martha Graham, Jose Limon and Alvin Ailey — all of whom left their mark on him. He started his own company in 1970 and has been honing his particular style ever since.

    Last year was a big one for Fagan. He won the 1998 Tony for his choreography of Disney's smash hit, "The Lion King," on Broadway. He also won the Drama Desk Award. And the Outer Critics Circle Award. And the Astaire Award. He also "won" a larger audience than most modern-dance choreographers ever attract. But watching his small troupe in concert you get the feeling that this is where his heart is.

    Fagan definitely seems energized by the "Lion King" success, and the best piece on the program was the newest, "Woza," which means "come" in Zulu.

    A dance in four sections, "Woza" opens with "Come ... Prepared," a solo for Sharon Skepple. She begins balanced on one leg with the other in a quadricep stretch that any runner recognizes. The only catch: she's upside-down, head pointing south, foot-caught-by-hand pointing north. She holds this contorted position for an impossibly long time, and it's played for comic effect. Her foot wiggles into a still more unbelievable stretch as if it's trying to escape.

      Garth Fagan
    The second section is a pas de deux for Norwood Pennewell and Natalie Rogers. We know this is a dance about intimacy and not just because the title is "Come ... Forever." It opens with Rogers in a very similar contortion to Skepple's — except this is a pretzel built for two. Again we get comedy: she rubs his head with her foot. Looks like a marriage to me.

    In "Come ... Forced Voyage," five prone couples twine and twist, slowly making their way across the stage. The feeling is so tortured that the dancers' simple act of standing toward the end of the piece conveys an incredible sense of emotional release. It gave me goosebumps.

    This feeling of release becomes pure joy in Woza's last section, "Come ... Celebration." It is buoyant and bright, and the performers' smiles are contagious.

    The last piece on the program was the sophisticated and sassy "Postscript Posthumous: Ellington." It was a lovely piece with divine music, but "Woza" would have been a better choice for the ending.

    NOVEMBER 18, 1999

    Reader comments on Garth Fagan:

  • Florida Theatre, Jacksonville   from Tarelton Cherry, Jan 29, 2001
  • Admirer   from anonynmous, Mar 27, 2001

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