Garth Fagan Dance

October 17, 2006

Garth Fagan Dance
Joyce Theater, NYC

October 17-22, 2006

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Garth Fagan Dance in Senku

Photo by Steven Schreiber, courtesy Garth Fagan Dance


In 1970 choreographer Garth Fagan founded a group in Rochester, New York, that (as old-timers will recall) once bore a self-deprecating name. That ironic moniker is long gone, perhaps aptly forgotten, as Fagan and his dancers have won all the honors their arms can hold. The troupe’s 35th-anniversary season celebrated its roots, as well as its laudable continuity, with repertory from 1981 through the present and generations of dancers from still-got-it veteran Steve Humphrey to talented rookie Khama Phillips (stepping in for the injured Guy Thorne).

In musical choices as well as aesthetic style, Fagan has always preferred to go against the grain. He has largely avoided the kind of representational or expressionistic dance theater so often expected of black artists working prior to or outside of postmodernism, opting instead to explore the dynamics and inherent drama of abstract, malleable form. His fleet yet earthy dancers have always responded to music with an earnest virtuosity that is never about glamour or perfection. In Senku, this season’s world premiere, Fagan employed familiar methods to again drive home points well made over the past few decades.

The four-part dance suite featured live accompaniment by William Chapman Nyaho playing classical piano works by composers of African descent. True to the Fagan spirit, the appropriately “intercultural” (to adopt Chapman Nyaho’s description) music revealed a complex weave of African and Western elements. In the dance’s opening and most interesting section, “Talking Drums,” Nigerian composer Joshua Uzoigwe’s “Ukom” coursed ahead like a stretch of treacherous rapids while soloist Phillips countered with almost stubbornly slow moves, sustained balances, preternatural extensions, and the gnarly shifts of energy, tempo, and weight that characterize Fagan’s handiwork. Part of “Think/Do” took the opposite approach, by closely linking the ensemble’s bunching movement to the hectic, crowded notes of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s “Scherzo.”

In the “Talk: Ms./Mrs.” section, Nicolette Depass and Annique Roberts, dancing to Oswald Russell’s “Three Jamaican Dances,” suggested a nurturing mother–daughter relationship. The duet was filled with splits, jumps, and extensions that looked like full-body salutes. Images of one dancer helping the other to unfold gave the work warmth but failed to overcome a sense of too much reliance on repetition and on what Fagan’s dancers do with ease.

In the most affecting part of “Feel/Think”—set to British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s melancholy “Deep River”—Norwood Pennewell appeared wracked by external and internal forces. This company veteran, one of Fagan’s most noble, showed us a dancer who believes in his dance, making even unsurprising movement ideas matter once again. See