Garth Fagan Dance

November 6, 2007

Garth Fagan Dance, Program A

The Joyce Theater, NYC

November 6-11, 2007

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

The first of two programs presented by Garth Fagan at The Joyce Theater embraced career highlights as early as From Before (1978) and Prelude (1981) as well as the world premiere of Edge/Joy, set to three delicious, exhilarating pieces by Mexican composer Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon. The two-hour show included the complete Senku (2006), with “Talking Drums”—its standout opening solo—performed by Guy Thorne. In the “Spring Yaounde” section of Griot New York (1991), Norwood Pennewell and Nicolette Depass shift Fagan’s typically dry, gnarly poetry of movement into an atypically steamy encounter with the mere nearness of face to face and bare chest to bare breasts.

    Prelude—bearing the pointed slogan, “Discipline is Freedom”—is not a model of felicitous construction, but it teaches us what to watch for in a Fagan dance. The body of each dancer has absorbed ballet, modern, and African dance to the extent that these diverse modes of moving look like an integrated, reasonably harmonious family, which is not to say that the result is bland. The bones and sinewy muscles of Fagan choreography—those abrupt, illogical elements that give it its off-kilter, rough-hewn angularity, emphatic humanity, tension, and power—remain very much in evidence. Edge/Joy—performed to live accompaniment by the Eastman School of Music Ensemble on the first two evenings—seems true to this model but with a difference.

    Opening Edge/Joy, Depass rounds her arms in front of her as if forming the eye of a needle and—this is the familiarly weird part—attempting to thread it with her knee. Other dancers emerge from the wings, their stretches, extensions, pivots and twisty jumps bearing all the hallmarks of a Fagan dance. But there’s a new sleight-of-hand magic in the seamless way dancers deftly transit the stage and flow from and into the wings. Within all that streaming, one or another dancer— perhaps Steve Humphrey, repository of Fagan wisdom, or youthful, mercurial Khama Phillips—captures and holds the attention before disappearing from view. No earth-shaking innovations here, but Edge/Joy’s sparkling performers—never less than disciplined—make it all work.