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Flash Review 1, 11-19: All Access
Garth Fagan's Balancing Act

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2002 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- Garth Fagan and his sensational troupe returned to the Joyce Theater November 12 with three different programs, including a world premiere. Fagan's unique style, a synthesis of influences, is totally accessible, without condescending. You can see traces of Alvin Ailey and Jose Limon, with whom he studied in New York; extended lines, long balances, and stillness, reminiscent of early Merce Cunningham; and the joyous spirit of his Jamaican roots.

Many of his amazing dancers have been with him for nearly the entire 32 years of the company's existence. Fagan trained all the original members himself in Rochester, New York, where he founded the troupe and remains based. Clearly, he's doing something right. The dancers fly through space and into the air effortlessly, as in "Prelude" (1983), structured like a typical dance class: warm-ups, center-floor phrases, then traveling steps across the stage.

The extraordinary dancers can poise endlessly on one foot and extend their legs uncommonly high, as in the elegiac "In Memoriam" (2001), a tribute to victims and survivors of 9/11, set to 16th century music by Cristobal de Morales. There are some standout talents among the newer company members, but at this performance the balances aren't quite as rock-solid as usual, and curtain-call smiles look pasted on. Are they perhaps having less fun than they let on?

Other dances on Program A include the 1995 "River Song," a blending of Native American and African rhythms, costumed by Linda King in fringe and feathers. And "Music of the Line/Words in the Shape" (2001), set to John Adams's persistent music, the visual and choreographic tone of which resembles that of the premiere, which it precedes in the evening, perhaps because its light and costume designers are the same.

"Translation Transition," the jazzy, three-part world premiere, has music by Clement Dodds, Wayne Shorter, and Harry Johnson, respectively. Here, Fagan repeats a device he often uses successfully: setting slow movement against fast music. The contrast creates terrific tension and focuses you on the line and quality -- not to mention the technical toughness -- of the dancing.

The dance begins with "Three," a trio of company veterans, Natalie Rogers, Norwood Pennewell, and Sharon Skepple in individual phrases that share some moves; then solos that showcase the particular strengths of the three. Rogers can hit and hold a high-legged balance in a blizzard. Pennewell's spring-loaded leaps still amaze, even at age forty-something. Skepple's impossibly long limbs slice space like blades; she alternates between languid elasticity and explosive accents.

In the second part, "Two," Steve Humphrey and Keisha Clarke emerge from a unison assembly of seven, sidling across the stage in unison, crouched low, reaching a leg far to the side, and shifting their weight over to it. Humphrey and Clarke bound like springboks amongst the group. The bouncy Shorter music sets them all arching back on one leg, arms pointed skyward, wagging their shoulders playfully.

In the final section, "One Love," Skepple solos, then Rogers and Pennewell dance a duet, all in silence. With Johnson's music Skepple, Humphrey, and Chris Morrison enter, then the full company, recapping motifs from earlier sections in lively counterpoint. Though we can't be sure about the meaning of the title -- often the case with some of Fagan's self-consciously clever titles -- the subtle palette of Mary Nemecek Peterson's clothes and C.T. Oakes's rich lighting give the dance a fine patina. It's another solid entry in Fagan's impressive repertoire of kinetically sensual, handsomely constructed and physically challenging dances. The season continues at the Joyce Theater through Sunday. Don't miss it!

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