Fagan's eclecticism to grace Leeward CC stage
By Carol Egan
Special to The Advertiser
By Carol Egan
Thirty-five years ago a small dance company was formed in Rochester, N.Y. Its members were students from the State University of New York in Brockport and a local community center. Its founder and artistic director was the Jamaica-born Garth Fagan. Beginning in such a humble fashion, Fagan named the company "Bottom of the Bucket, BUT ..."
"I was starting with untrained dancers and it was an interesting name," the choreographer explains by phone from his Rochester home. "Also, we had nowhere to go but up." About 10 years ago, the name was no longer relevant and the company became Garth Fagan Dance.
Local audiences will get a chance to see how far the company has come when it performs tomorrow at the Leeward Community College Theatre. In this, its fourth visit to the Islands, the group will present a program featuring Fagan's signature style, which he calls "modern dance influenced by Afro-Caribbean dance as far as the rhythms and use of the torso are concerned. But it also has the speed and precision of ballet."
"I'm a contemporary choreographer, and my choreography is about people," Fagan says. "I encourage my dancers to be people dancing, not princes or princesses. They can be pulled up when they have to be, but they can also be very cool. None of my women are waiting for the prince to come because they can take care of themselves.
"I use a wide range of ideas and music," he says. "We need to be open to things we don't know."
Tomorrow's program bears witness to his eclecticism. A Hawai'i premiere, "Dance Collage for Romie," is a tribute to artist Romare Bearden, Fagan's mentor and friend, who died in 1988. It is accompanied by a score that includes music by Shostakovich, Villa-Lobos and Jelly Roll Morton.
Another work, "Translation-Transition," uses a commissioned score by the Jazz Jamaican All Stars, a London-based ensemble. Other pieces on the program feature music by Dvorak (his Cello Concerto) and The Preservation Jazz Band.
Fagan's impact on the dance world has been recognized through the assortment of awards he and the company have received. Five of his dancers, some of whom have been with the company since its beginning, have won Bessie Awards, the dance world's equivalent to Hollywood's Academy Awards. Fagan has won every major award given to a choreographer, including a Tony Award in 1998 for Best Choreography in a Broadway musical for "The Lion King," which still plays to sold-out houses.
In addition to two U.S. touring companies, there are productions in Germany, Japan, Holland and Australia, keeping him busy rehearsing understudies and new dancers.