Garth Fagan Dance
The Joyce Theater, NYC
November 4–9, 2008
Reviewed by Christopher Atamian
Photo by Basil Childers.
Guy Thorne in Garth Fagan's
Phone Tag, Thanks & Things.
Garth Fagan's fusion of modern and ballet with Caribbean and African traditions continues to occupy a unique place on the contemporary dance stage. And evidence of Fagan’s personal charisma was everywhere during his company’s season at The Joyce. In front of the theater he greeted fans and friends. In a sparsely attended Q & A, he answered each audience member’s question with zeal, part preacher of contemporary dance, part avuncular presence.
We did not, however, need to be reminded of his popularity quite as explicitly as in the world premiere of Phone Tag, Thanks & Things. The score alternates between messages left on Fagan’s voicemail and solo piano music composed by Bogani Ndodana, Florence Price, Ludovic Lamothe, and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. The voicemails include a whole set of congratulatory notices from other assorted Fagan supporters, including several family members and friends. To illustrate one message, the lovely Nicolette Depass rubs her belly to indicate that she is indeed the pregnant company member in one of the messages. At other times, dance and score bear little relation to one another. Male dancers embrace in a quick pas-de-deux: an allusion to gay marriage laws or simply two men in love? Hard to tell. In the Q & A following the November 5 performance, Fagan indicated that he had in fact discarded negative or more controversial messages left on his voicemail. These might have provided much-needed counterpoint or drama.
The rest of the dances displayed Fagan’s choreography to greater advantage. Prelude: Discipline is Freedom, set to Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) and Max Roach, highlighted Fagan’s singular technique. The angular, scissor-like cut of the arms, the lovely rounded shoulder and hip rolls, as well as some spectacular turns and leg holds are a sensual delight. Norwood Pennewell, who has been with Fagan for 30 years, was Zen-like in his mastery of the material. Depass, Lynet Rochelle, and Annique S. Roberts also stood out.
Pennewell returned for a beautiful solo, Feel/Think, an excerpt from the 2006 Senku set to music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. The lanky dancer’s combination of technical mastery and stage presence is mesmerizing. He can hold your attention simply by bending forward, cocking his head towards the audience, and extending his arms backwards between his legs in a straight arrow.
In Light, excerpted from the 2005 Life: Dark/Light, the dancers strut onstage dressed in white. They do a credible job of matching Billy Bang’s lovely and complex violin. Translation Transition set to music by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, is a powerful formal exercise that compares and contrasts Jamaican music (ska, reggae) and American jazz traditions.
Program B included the Adam and Eve retelling Time After Before Place, with music from the Art Ensemble of Chicago, which originally premiered at The Joyce in 1988. In last year’s premiere, Edge/Joy, the dancers perform on the edges of the stage. Traditional entrées and exits intercut and bleed into one another. This staging is confusing at first, but delightful once the eye adjusts to it. It also reminds us of how conventional our expectations as viewers can be.