Thanks to Garth Fagan Dance, Rochester is somewhat of an international dance hot spot. I had been only vaguely aware of Fagan’s dance company and school during my time in Rochester, but this past Saturday, Dec. 1, I got to find out why this dance troupe is such a big deal.
The company’s 12 performers essentially transformed my conception of what the human body can achieve, both in artistic expression and feats of strength. Fagan’s choreography is varied and exciting, the dancers are astounding athletes and each piece is a complete media experience, with excellent sound and lighting and striking and minimal costumes by various artists, including Fagan.
Garth Fagan, already an acclaimed dancer, founded his first troupe in Rochester in 1970. Fagan no longer performs but continues to choreograph prolifically, conceiving boundary-stretching works. He is the pioneer of the Fagan movement technique, which is the core method taught at his school here in Rochester. Fagan’s style is original, integrating several styles (such as ballet, post-modern dance and Afro-Caribbean styles) into a powerful hybrid.
The program of five dances began with “Discipline is Freedom,” a 1984 Fagan work set to jazz piano and Afro-Caribbean percussion. The whole troupe featured here displayed its surprising age range and amazing ability to move as a collective. Fagan’s choreography balances fluidity and precision, creating movements that can convey abstraction and emotion. “Discipline is Freedom” could have been the title of the entire program, since every dance demanded a balance of rigid execution and individual interpretation.
The excerpt from Fagan’s 1991 “Griot New York” was a striking ode to lovemaking, a blush-inducing duet between dancers Norwood Pennewell and Nicolette Depass, performing a languorous give-and-take, locked together in fantastic contortions that moved to an improbably slow Wynton Marsalis ballad. The costumes, you could say, were diminutive, as both dancers wore only unobtrusive purple briefs (and nothing else). The dance was genuinely touching, an emotional high point of the performance.
Next was the Rochester premier of “Edge/Joy,” a new work for the entire company. This was a complex and energetic piece set to a trio of taut, dissonant compositions by Ricardo John-Muldoon. Both the costumes and choreography brought out the individuality of the dancers, encouraging them to play consistent roles. I got the impression that Fagan composed this piece specifically for the current members of his ensemble.
The multi-movement “Senku,” set to a variety of piano music, seemed to create a commentary on social dynamics. Highlights included the duet “Ms./Mrs.,” a gentle study of female friendship, danced by Nicolette Depass and Annique Russell.
The plaintive “Feel/Think,” danced by soloist Norwood Pennewell, seemed to describe a man either aging, dying or struggling against an inner frustration. Here, Fagan’s small, simple movements convey exhaustion and disappointment just as palpably as his other works convey physical exuberance.
The program’s closer, “From Before,” was an amusing trip to its own time of origin, 1978. The dancers, in gaudy, single-color jumpsuits, careened through sundry formations to brash Afro-pop music that waxed hokey during a segue into ’70’s funk. This one seemed geared toward letting the dancers cut loose and it was fun to see them get carried away, dated music and all.
After the group took its final bows, the audience’s unceasing applause spurred an exuberant recap of a portion of “From Before.”
Tickets to this show weren’t cheap, but I would recommend keeping an eye on the local paper for upcoming appearances. If the troupe returns to UR anytime soon, a student ID ought to bring the price down. Even a stiff $20 ticket actually seems like a more-than-reasonable fee for dance artistry that is among the best in the world.
Kloss is a member of the class of 2008.