He has a musical imagination that scours the world in search of inspiration, dipping and curving around centuries of sound. Ellington, Brahms, Adams and Wynton Marsalis have been some composers of choice. Reflecting his eagerness for a fresh musical challenge, Garth Fagan has, for the first time, turned to Chinese music. The resulting dance, “Mudan 175/39,” receives its New York City premiere during Garth Fagan Dance’s Joyce Theater season, October 27 – November 1.
The music for “Mudan 175/39” is comprised of selections from “Dim Sum,” the Ying Quartet’s Telarc recording that blends classical and contemporary Chinese music. In response to the music’s unique complexity, Fagan has created a series of interconnected solos, duets, trios and group pieces brimming with unexpected dynamic changes and eruptions of fiendish rhythms that demand a change-on-a- dime precision from the performers.
“Prelude: Discipline is Freedom,” the 1983 classic set to Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) and Max Roach, celebrates Fagan’s singular movement vocabulary. “Translation Transition,” first performed in 2002, conveys a sense of community, revealing the deep humanist streak at the heart of Fagan’s work. Like the Jazz Jamaica All Stars score that accompanies “Translation Transition,” the dance explores the similarities, differences and meeting points between American jazz and the traditional music of Jamaica (ska, reggae and mento).
Also scheduled for The Joyce is The Light section from “Life: Dark/Light.” Premiered in 2005, the dance celebrates the bonds that communalize society as reflected in the intricate rhythms of Billy Bang’s Asian-influenced jazz violin music, “Vietnam: The Aftermath.”
“Senku,” choreographed in 2006 to spotlight the distinctive qualities of each generation of Fagan’s performers, who range from 55 to twenty-something years old, plays to their differing, and often overlapping qualities: brashness, agility, speed and legato, the height of their extensions, the depth of their drama, naiveté and the effect of the accumulation of life experiences. What do these generations share and how do they differ? What the dance reveals finally is the potential complexity and riches of the art form itself.
Dedicated to Romare Bearden, “DANCECOLLAGEFORROMIE” (2003), is divided into three sections, each addressing a specific aspect of Bearden’s work and personality. For its 2009 season, the company will perform the concluding section of the dance, ‘Conjur Man,’ an exploration of some of Bearden’s collages, favorite imagery and love of jazz.
The season’s two revivals are Fagan’s 1979 “Oatka Trail” set to Antonin Dvorak and “Landscape for 10” (1988), set to Brahms’s lyrical Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra.
Garth Fagan, a 1998 Tony Award-winner for his choreography for Broadway hit “The Lion King,” began his career in dance by touring Latin America with Ivy Baxter and her Jamaican national dance company. In addition to studying with Baxter, Fagan trained with Caribbean dance teachers Lavinia Williams and Pearl Primus, as well as with Martha Graham, Mary Hinkson, Alvin Ailey and José Limón. A graduate of Wayne State University, the Jamaican-born choreographer served as director of Detroit’s All-City Dance Company and was a principal soloist and choreographer for the Dance Theatre of Detroit and the Detroit Contemporary Dance Company. In 1970, he moved to Rochester, NY, where he founded Garth Fagan Dance. The company has since appeared in many major venues and arts festivals throughout the United States, as well as internationally in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America, New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies.
In addition to works for Garth Fagan Dance, Fagan has choreographed dances for Judith Jamison, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Limón Dance Company. In May 1999, he created “Ellington Elation,” one section of a trio of pieces commissioned by New York City Ballet in honor of Duke Ellington’s centenary and NYCB’s 50th anniversary.
Fagan’s choreography for “The Lion King” also won him the 1998 Drama Desk Award, the 1998 Outer Critics Circle Award, the 1998 Astaire Award, the 2000 Laurence Olivier Award, and the 2001 Ovation Award. In 2001, he received the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award; that same year, he was the recipient of the Golden Plate Award, inducted into the American Academy of Achievement and presented with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander by the Jamaican government. Additionally, he won the 2004 Helpmann Award. Throughout the history of the Garth Fagan Dance Company, five members have received New York Dance and Performance Awards (“Bessies”): Garth Fagan, Norwood Pennewell, Steve Humphrey, Natalie Rogers and Sharon Skepple.