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Flash Review 1, 10-31: Concerto in
Fagan and Dancers Whirl into the Joyce
By Sandra Aberkalns
Copyright 2001 Sandra Aberkalns
NEW YORK -- Confession, so they say,
is good for the soul. Well, I have to admit that on nights when I'm reviewing
a concert I really don't mind going alone -- I like to listen to the conversations
going on around me. Opinions expressed by audience members can be very intuitive
and informative. However, last night a comment made about Garth Fagan Dance left
me a little befuddled. As two women were making a bee-line for the exit, during
the second intermission, one of them was saying, "This is very morose -- no spirit."
The Joyce Theater will be host to
Garth Fagan Dance for 13 more performances, and believe me when I say this company
has plenty of spirit for the entire run.
No dance company survives for 31
years without spirit. Garth Fagan, founder and artistic director of the company
has a wall full of awards which his peers have given him to honor his spirit (among
them a Tony Award for best choreography for his contribution to the Broadway show
"The Lion King"). Half of the current company members (including Mr. Fagan) are
Bessie Award winners. How much more spirit can one company have?
The first work of the evening, "Prelude:
Discipline is Freedom" is the modern counterpart to the ballet "Etudes" by Harald
Lander. While "Etudes" displays the style and schooling of a ballet company, "Prelude"
is Fagan's tribute to his dancers. This work acknowledges the joy in mastering
a technique and the inherent freedom when one has mastered the craft. That these
dancers are masters of their bodies was obvious the moment Norwood Pennewell stepped
onto the stage. I was very impressed that whenever the dancers came down from
a jump they were like cats landing on soft sand, and no matter how quickly they
were moving not a breath was to be heard. If I'm crediting the wrong dancer for
the following incredible double-take moment I apologize, but I do believe it was
Aisha Benjamin. In the downstage right corner of the stage, I watched her do a
developpe a la second with the left leg while in a demi-plie (and on demi-pointe)
on the right leg. I was then distracted by some other dancers more animated in
their movement, and when I happened to look back to that side of the stage Ms.
Benjamin was still there with the leg as high as it was before, and still balancing
on demi-pointe! It was such a subtle moment (and movement) that I don't think
many in the audience realized how difficult it really was. Hats off to whoever
it was! The movement, especially when the dancers were travelling diagonally across
the stage, alternated, without warning, between focused precision and relaxed
free flow. The dancers moved effortlessly between these two dynamics, showing
their skill both collectively and individually. The final blackout capturing Mr.
Pennewell in a jump in mid-air was truly inspired.
Excerpts from "Never Top 40 (Juke
Box)" didn't quite do it for me as I couldn't sense the common thread which bound
these dances together, but that's the risk a choreographer takes when sections
of a larger work are taken out of context. However, Natalie Rogers's solo "Dance
Psalmody 69" was riveting. When the solo begins, Ms. Rogers is in the upstage
right corner and one can actually feel the walls of a cathedral rising around
her -- walls of spiritual and physical strength support her. Then she moves to
the downstage left corner of the stage. Now, a person in the front row of the
audience could reach out and touch her if they chose to, and suddenly she has
become very vulnerable. The energy/dynamic she exerts in her movement has not
changed and yet, this simple displacement on the stage has changed everything.
"In Memoriam: The Innocent, The Brave,
The Hands, The Minds, All Mankind" is dedicated to the victims and survivors of
September 11, 2001. My understanding is that it is a reworked section of a 1998
dance. As I'm not familiar with the original work, I don't know what choreographic
changes Mr. Fagan made. The title alone makes this work a very visceral experience.
How your brain interprets the movement/shapes made by the dancers on the stage
will tell you a lot about how your psyche was branded that day.
While the opening and closing sections
of "Music of the Line/Words in the Shape" were colorful and fun, it was the middle
section that caught my attention. The simplicity and clarity in the lines of the
movement were beautiful, but that wasn't the only charm of the passage; it was
the way the dancers actually held a position long enough or were moving slowly
enough that your brain could create a frame around each moment. It was also fascinating
to see how Fagan created distinct moods for each trio without dramatically changing
the type of movement done by the different groups. The first group (Rogers, Pennewell,
and Chris Morrison) was like water -- one movement flowed into the other with
the dancers flowing over each other. The second trio (Sharon Skepple, Nicolette
Depass, and Bill Ferguson) consisted of two women who were like the eye of the
hurricane with the man representing the chaos on the outer edges. The final image
of this trio was that of a storm that had spent all of its energy and was left
to simply rotate on itself. The last trio (Steve Humphrey, Joel Valentin, and
Erin Burnett) was very distant -- they are together physically but not emotionally.
The last piece of the evening was
titled "Woza," which is Zulu for "Come." I loved the opening section, "Come Prepared"
with Sharon Skepple. Ms. Skepple was simply enchanting in this solo. To me, the
image that came to mind was that of a runner preparing for a marathon. When she
flashes her pearly whites over her shoulder at the audience, it is as though she
has appraised her competition and knows they are wanting. Her jetes on the diagonal
are to show everyone her prowess. Her taunt to the audience is "come" follow me
if you can!
As much as I was enthralled by the
duo of Rogers and Pennewell throughout the evening, I really can't praise their
duet "Come Forever." Personally, the music was driving me crazy. One more perfect
fifth and I would have been on my knees begging for mercy. Their performance was
toeing the line so closely I couldn't figure out if this pas de deux was tongue
in cheek or if it really was meant to be sincere. For me it was a Hallmark moment
Speaking of music, there is something
for everyone: John Adams, Keith Jarrett, and Lebo M, to name just a few.
One final thought about spirit. At
the end of the concert Garth Fagan came on stage to take a bow with the company.
He was given a bouquet of flowers. He immediately reached into the bouquet, pulled
out a rose, and tossed it gently into the audience. No, THANK YOU Mr. Fagan.
Garth Fagan Dance runs through November
11. For more information, please visit the
Joyce web site.
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