Thursday, April 27, 2017

Dance Review: Garth Fagan Dance at The Joyce

Garth Fagan 3 Garth Fagan Dance celebrates its 40th Anniversary this week at the Joyce. The Rochester-based company, famous for its modern-meets-ballet-meets-Afro-Caribbean aesthetic, delivers a varied program through Sunday.  It revives several company classics, premieres two new works, and introduces the choreography of company member Norwood Pennewell.  There are some hits and misses in this ambitious line-up.

The evening opens, as it always does with this company, with Fagan’s opus Prelude.  The piece begins with Pennewell leaping onto the stage in complete silence and hanging still with one leg extended behind him in an almost balletic attitude.  He balances for an amazingly long period of time, then, with a flurry of arms, a turn and a somersault, he finds himself casually balancing his leg aloft again.  Thus begins our lesson on Garth Fagan’s technique.  The number is intended to introduce Fagan’s unique style, and for anyone who’s ever been in a dance class, it reads like…  well,…  like you’re watching a dance class.  Not the most exciting piece of theatre.  For those who haven’t been in a dance class, apparently it’s fascinating, at least judging from the rambunctious applause at Prelude’s conclusion.  But to me, it is plodding and pedantic.  I appreciate the technique of Pennewell and the others, but then I want them to let go of it.  Dancers go to class to focus on technique, but when we go to see dance performed, we want to see dancers in whom technique is so ingrained that they are able to soar. Unfortunately, in Wednesday’s program, I rarely saw that happen.

Real Friends, Real Pros, Real Dancers.  Only on iDANZ! Prelude is followed by an sensual duet from the company classic Griot.  This intricate, slowing-moving duet between the leggy, muscular Pennewell and the equally leggy and muscular Nicolette Depass is one of the highlights of the evening.  As disappointed as I had been with the first piece, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the dancers in this slow, inventive duet of shifting shapes set to a luscious soundtrack by Wynton Marsalis. Here, in the capable hands (and arms and legs and even chins) of two of Fagan’s senior dancers, you see an intensity that overrides the pedantic of the first piece.

Pennewell’s choreographic debut, Hylozoic, once again hits you over the head with the Fagan technique. But Pennewell has proved himself to be an excellent at jumps, and this piece gets off its feet– literally– in a more exciting manner than Prelude.  Set against a backdrop of a single curtain, the dancers defy gravity as they twist, leap and twirl through the space. Nicolette Depasse shines once again on a stage full of lithe, athletic dancers.

After those two highlights and a brief intermission, the program once again descends into a very formal, repetitive exploration of the Garth Fagan technique. Thanks, Forty seeks to honor the company’s anniversary, but it isn’t until the fourth movement, entitled Fete-Joys, that you get to see the heart and soul of the company.  When the three original dancers come out and dance without restraint, you begin to see how this might have been an explosive company twenty years ago.

Still, Garth Fagan is a must-see for any enthusiast of modern dance. Their historic ascent of the New York City dance ladder has become legendary and inspiring for dancers of all ages.  The newest members of the company show great promise, while the older ones amaze us with their dedication to and mastery of Fagan technique.  Each year they return to The Joyce Theater to make their indelible mark on the dance scene.

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Official Dance Review by Molly Sorohan
Performance:  Garth Fagan Dance
Choreographer: Garth Fagan, Norwood Pennewell
Venue:  The
Joyce Theater, New York
Performance Date:  November 10, 2010, 7:30 pm
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