I am what the dance world would term a beginner.
You could call the friends I brought with me unfamiliar.
I can say with confidence, however, that we all enjoyed the fusion of contemporary, ballet, and Afro-Caribbean dance in the Garth Fagan Dance Studio’s Fringe Fest performance .
Fagan, the Tony Award-winning choreographer wearing a long-sleeve plaid shirt and leather vest with jeans and sneakers, introduced his “rookies” alongside his “beloved baby brother” for a small performance at his own studio in downtown Rochester.
“They’re going to dance so beautifully,” Fagan said in his opening speech.
They didn’t disappoint.
In a crescendo, the Afro-Caribbean influence slowly overtook the performance. It began, though, with a heavily ballet-influenced piece. The dancers stretched, pliéd, and slowly moved their legs into arabesques all on their own individual times, while their formations and style still gave them an illusion of synchrony. Only the slow, modern music and rhythm paired with a flexed—not pointed—oot hinted that something was going to change.
By the last piece, the dancers on stage were all smiling brightly as traditional Caribbean music played in the background. Not only were feet flexed, but hips swam through the stage, straight arms pointed up, and flat palms reached upwards. Fagan’s brother and another dancer moved their limbs through a mock game of limbo.
Fagan is an award-winning choreographer, known for his groundbreaking fusion of dance genres as well as for his choreography for the 1998 Tony-Awarded Best Musical, The Lion King, for which Fagan also won a Tony for Best Choreography.
Let this indicate Fagan’s ability to touch even those who are miles away from the dance world.
During a duet in “No Evidence of Failure,” choreographed by Fagan, there was audible laughter throughout the audience. The two dancers tousled one another’s hair, teased each other with kisses, and felt one another throughout the dance. This flirtation and maturing of love ends with the simple act of hand-holding, touching the audience more than any other performance. When the dancing and applause had ended, an elderly couple sitting in front of me shared a single kiss.
Fagan declared himself “madly in love” with this work, and it wasn’t hard to decipher why.
The second piece, “A Moderate Cease,” was choreographed by Norwood Pennewell and similarly provoked the audience. The number was set to grandiose chamber music, juxtaposing the small ensemble of dancers. In the duet, the couple danced in a contemporary and ballet-influenced style, featuring a couple who spun, flipped, and stretched into a constant embrace, but never manages to look at one another face-to-face.
This juxtaposition of liveliness and solitude is found often throughout Fagan’s choreography. The last piece, though cheery in sound and appearance, is danced to a voiceover read by Fagan describing the death of a man as his lover kisses him for the last time.
“He died full of life,” Fagan said, as the two dancers representing the couple folded into a cheek-to-cheek hug and the remaining performers moved in a lively circle around them.
The selection at this Fringe Fest event was the raw, almost costumeless version of what will be performed at the Nazareth Performing Arts Center from Nov. 30 through Dec. 3.
If you know what it is to feel the pleasures and toils of relationships or loneliness, if you know what it is to be a person in want of life’s joys, you will enjoy Fagan’s piece.
Even if you don’t quite understand it.