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Review 1, 11-18: Springboks and Gazelles
By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr
NEW YORK -- Garth Fagan
Dance, now in its 33rd season, has returned to the Joyce Theater
for two weeks (November 11 - 23). Artistic director/guru Fagan remains
based in Rochester, NY, where he began his troupe with dancers he
had trained virtually from scratch into streamlined motion machines.
Eschewing the modern dance trendiness of New York City, he shaped
his unique voice and vision of African-American dance from such
sources as Martha Graham, Lester Horton, martial arts, yoga, and
his Jamaican roots.
dancers and unusual choreographic structures thrilled his concert
audiences, but his award-winning choreography for Julie Taymor's
"The Lion King" on Broadway made him a household name. The financial
success of that smash hit and a subsequent MacArthur ("genius")
grant have given him and his company the solvency to develop their
The enormous jumps,
treacherous off-center balances, and whirling spin that characterize
Fagan's style, require maximum physical strength and speed to bring
off convincingly. Yet, in a notoriously short-lived profession,
some of the company's earliest members are still performing after
nearly three decades or more, including Norwood Pennewell, who joined
in 1978 and Steve Humphrey, a founding member.
But the Joyce program
that features the 1981 "Prelude" -- a staged technique class that
shows us the rigors of Fagan's training -- and a revival of "Passion
Distanced," created in 1987 -- an extended solo, amplified in the
second part by five other dancers -- manifests that although Pennewell,
Fagan's long-time muse, has already defied the odds for dancing
longevity, roles created on his youthful body require a resiliency
that more mature muscles just don't have. Granted, he still jumps
with amazing aplomb, but he's dancing with more relaxed dynamics
than before, and now the effort shows.
The name of the premiere
"DANCECOLLAGEFORROMIE," dedicated to artist Romare Bearden, may look cumbersome,
but choreographically the piece sings. Its three sections, set to
wildly disparate musical selections by Shostakovich, Villa-Lobos,
and "Jelly Roll" Morton, create a sweetly peculiar collage.
start "Matter and Materiel," the first part. Guy Thorne and William
Brown, Jr., Kevin Ormsby, and Bill Ferguson jump and spin, while
slow extensions of the women, Nicolette Depass, Jin Ahn, and Michelle
Hebert counterbalance their high energy. Steve Humphrey in red,
carrying a long, crooked animal horn bursts in amongst them. The
movement has a dynamic texture similar to that of Shostakovich's
lively, discordant "Piano Concerto #1 in C minor." The independent
rhythms of dance and music clash provocatively.
Pennewell and Keisha
Clarke -- both with physiques attenuated like Giacometti figures
-- balance coolly in stretchy T-shapes, and wrap their limbs into
sculptural knots in "Detail: Down Home Also," the second section,
set to a saxophone arrangement of Villa-Lobos's ubiquitous "Bachianas
Brasileiras No. 5." At the end, he carries her tenderly to a pillow
and they fall asleep together.
In part three, "Conjur
Man," the light (by C.T. Oakes, the troupe's regular designer) catches
first the women in a jazzy pose, then the men ganged together behind
a cardboard fragment of brick wall. Morton's Dixieland music brightens
the mood for bounding leaps by Fagan's shot-from-guns guys, including
also Momo Sanno; sky-high extensions by the women; and a funny,
jittery solo for Pennewell.
Fagan should've quit
while he was ahead: Three excerpts from his 1991 "Griot New York"
to Wynton Marsalis's music close the long program. In "Waltz Detente"
four couples in neon-bright unitards do a heavily pelvic version
of the ballroom-dance staple, then whip off the colors for "Oracabessa
Sea," in which brief, sexy black leotards show off beautifully sinewy
limbs, as lanky couple Depass and Chris Morrison lead the dancers
in hip-swiveling sashays around the stage. But "High Rise Riff"
ends anticlimactically, muting the exhilaration "DANCECOLLAGEFORROMIE"
The Joyce Theater audience,
primed with loyal Fagan fans, managed to deliver the shouts of approving
the troupe has come to expect in New York, and they did their signature
pleased-as-punch bows, but the enthusiasm seemed -- frankly -- a
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