moves: Garth Fagan Dance.
Mae G. Banner
Egg, April 22
All the glories displayed in nGarth
Faganís newest dances are laid out for the audience in Preludeó
Discipline is Freedom (1981), which opened the companyís
transcendent program last Friday at the Egg.
works as a primer for the audience and a stamina-builder for
Faganís 13 ravishing dancers, filled as it is with an increasingly
textured set of signature moves: heads moving side to side,
arms whirring like winches, bends, contractions, balances
on one leg, visibly rippling vertebrae, cakewalk promenades
with high-arched chests followed by gazelle-like jetes.
Solo phrases build to unison progressions, set to the piano
jazz of Abdullah Ibrahim and the intelligent drumming of Max
Roach. Dancers change on the instant from gravity-bound Afro-Caribbean
steps to long-limbed ballet stretches and back again. The
structure is clear and always exciting.
Faganís vocabulary is like no other. In 1970, he envisioned
a company that would dance his velvety choreography composed
of torso-centered modern dance energy, rooted traditional
moves, and balletic lines that are breathtakingly soaring,
but deliberately skewed. His dancers work in a studio with
no mirrors. They create shapes from the inside out.
Fagan doesnít alter this vocabularyówhy would he?óbut, he
experiments by applying it to longer, sometimes programmatic
works that are inspired by unusual music or the work of visual
artists he admires. The major pieces in Fridayís generous
program were two three-part suites: DancecollageforRomie
(2003), a kinetic response to the collages of Romare Bearden,
and Translation Transition (2002), an exuberant party
to music by Jazz Jamaica All Stars.
Like the dance, the music for Romie is a collage. Part
One, an intentionally disconnected display of the materials
to be used, has dancers crouching or spinning to the circusy
music of Shostakovichís Piano Concerto No. 1. Each
dancer enacts his or her own phrase, like a circus troupe
warming up before showtime. Dancers make elaborate bows with
their ankles crossed in front and their arms crossed behind.
Steve Humphrey (at 52, an original company member) threads
through, carrying a green balloon shaped like a snake. Two
women make a push-me, pull-you creature as the trumpets flare.
The amorous music of Villa-Lobos suffuses the duet by Norwood
Pennewell and Keisha Clarke that follows, called Detail:Down
Home. Also, it mirrors images from Beardenís work. Clarke
jumps straight up into Pennewellís arms and then somehow fastens
onto his back with one leg straight up and the other jutting
out at a stunning angle. These two are flamingoes or giraffes,
or gods who touch foreheads in love and mutual respect, then
lie down together.
Part Three, Conjur Man, to Jelly Roll Mortonís ďJungle
BluesĒ (performed by Branford Marsalis on his recorded tribute
to Bearden) recapitulates the moves and props introduced in
the opening part. Now Pennewell is a trickster in a ringmasterís
red jacket, moving across the stage, legs twittering to the
nasty sound of a trombone. All Faganís favorite moves combine
into new and startling group shapes that split off and recombine
in three face-forward chunks, the bright-colored parts reproducing
segments of Beardenís collage.
On a smaller scale, Nicolette Depass danced a pleading solo,
Dance Psalmody 69 (1985) to the singing of countertenor
Alfred Deller. In total contrast, Clarke, Bill Ferguson, and
Sharon Skepple led the company in Touring Jubilee 1924
(Professional) (1982), in which all the women are sassy,
all the men know how to shimmy, and the mood is purely exuberant.
Music by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a perfect accompaniment
to the cakewalks and Charlestons of these flirty couples.
The closing dance, Translation Transition shows the
essence of Faganís aesthetic. The dancers take each move and
play it out as far as it will go, and then further. They develop
arm and leg extensions slowly, smoothly, intently, elastically,
culminating in extravagant balances. They may look off-center,
but itís clear they are centered in themselves.
Fast and slow, high and low moves butt up against each other.
Groovy hip action goes with slackly swinging arms. The power
of unison passages blows through the group like a windstorm
in a wheatfield. Itís a demanding workout and an unabashed
good timeóso good, the audience gave the troupe a standing
ovation and demanded and got a reprise of the last swinging
section as an encore.
Note: Faganís dancers, like no other troupe Iíve seen, always
come out to the lobby to meet the audience one-on-one. Dancers
come up and shake your hand, introduce themselves by name,
and ask where youíre from. Their graciousness, part of Faganís
training, has made friends of audiences worldwide. As if their
dancing werenít enough.