move with precision: Garth Fagan Dance.
Mae G. Banner
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 29
Garth Fagan’s dancers move in startling and satisfying ways.
They can do a jagged leap and land like velvet, or balance
endlessly on one long leg till they leave you gasping for
breath, then erupt in a burst of speed that carries them off
Thirty-five years ago, long before he won worldwide fame for
choreographing The Lion King, Fagan founded a dance
company that would speak his distinctive movement language.
Aug. 29 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Garth
Fagan Dance company danced a generous program of five works
that spanned more than two decades of the master’s ideas.
The music ranged from a Brahms sonata to piano jazz by Jelly
Roll Morton, from Villa Lobos to Jamaican reggae to the soaring
horns of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The mood varied
from a duet of unrequited love to a flirty, high-stepping
Saturday-night romp. It was all wonderful.
The show began with Prelude: Discipline Is Freedom,
an ensemble dance to the textured jazz of Abdullah Ibrahim
and Max Roach that presents a primer of Fagan’s dance language.
By ones and twos, and then in groups, the 13 dancers displayed
all the elements that make Fagan’s dances so unusual and so
right: the slow pivot on one flat foot, the forward bend into
a table-top and the rippling of the back, one vertebra at
a time, the rubbery, whirling arms, the African-based isolations
of shoulders and hips, and those amazing balances. These dancers
glow, and then they flame.
and the Afternoon, set to Brahms, brought Kevin Moore
and Nicolette Depass into a slow recognition of their love.
Two tall figures in period dress, they held hands at arms’
length and swung their bodies out in quiet desperation, turning
faster and faster until the tension split them and they parted.
In giddy contrast, Touring Jubilee 1924 (Professional)
was all vinegar and pepper. Even the costumes were giggly—flower-
printed calico dresses and flirty hats for the women, white
pants and red socks for the men. Five couples, country coquettes
and dandies, met on the dance floor, kicking high and jiggling
their butts to the burnished brass of the Preservation Hall
band. Trucking and jiving, rocking to the banjo, Jubilee
had sass right to the personality-packed curtain calls.
The peak of the evening was DANCECOLLAGEFORROMIE, Fagan’s
homage to the great collagist of Harlem life, Romare Bearden.
To a musical collage of Shostakovich, Villa Lobos and Jelly
Roll Morton, Fagan presented the colors and characters, the
very architecture of Bearden’s urban scenes.
The dancers be gan in black unitards with patches of red or
yellow. After ingenious exits and entrances that made the
ensemble of 13 seem twice that number, they ap peared in high-toned
suits or flowing skirts in shades of red. They moved in clusters
or as individuals, always left to right across the field of
vision, their bodies pasting in the bits of the grand collage.
We got a good look at those rubbery moving arms, the broken-leg
leaps, the neighborhood characters, like Steve Humphrey as
the Conjur Man with a long, green snake, or the man who walked
with two canes as if they were stilts, his legs high off the
ground. The central duet by Norwood Pennewell and Depass was
a tender, fractured portrait of grownup love that weathers
hardship. She leapt onto his back with one leg jutting away
at an impossible, beautiful angle, and he held her there,
then laid her down gently to recline against a pillow where
he joined her in repose.
For the final section of Collage, the dancers brought
in the props, side-stepping behind a sturdy red brick wall
or swooshing in a cut-paper railroad train. Shimmying and
strutting, they flew the wall across the stage and the wall
seemed to carry them with it. Three women stood one behind
another to make a sculptural shape, their arms raying out.
The Snake Man slid by. The Stilt Man plied his canes. Everyone
froze in three clusters to create the final tableau—a neighborhood
and a world.
The crowd-pleasing closer was Translation Transition
to music by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, a brass band with
hot drums and a steady reggae beat overlaid with 1940s jazz.
True to Fagan’s aesthetic of contrast, dancers would move
in slow motion while the music raced, or trade off their time-defying
balances with one-foot spins and jerky kicks. Sure and controlled,
they made every sharp line count.
was smooth, never frantic, loose, but controlled, with the
beat deep down in it. It finished with an easy strut that
crowded the stage with leg-thrusting, shoulder-swiveling groups,
so joyous that the crowd clapped the beat while the dancers
did it all over again as a rousing curtain call.