Garth Fagan choreographed the spectacular Broadway production of The Lion King, and that one show has sealed his legacy. But there is much more to the 71-year-old Fagan than leaping gazelles and flying baboons. His company, Garth Fagan Dance, has set the standard for contemporary dance inspired by the many movement styles of the African diaspora.
Fagan tells Cultist over the phone that he is still inspired by the Jamaican culture he grew up with: "You know when you go to Caribbean parties, you have the toddlers dancing right up to the great grandparents. Every one is on the rhythm and the beat and creating beautiful moves."
Fagan has traveled far from home. He began his career touring with the national dance company of Jamaica, and studied with mid-20th century greats like Pearl Primus, Lavinia Williams, Martha Graham, Jose Limon, and Alvin Ailey.
"I understand rhythm, but that wasn't enough for me," he explains. "I
wanted to use the weightiness of modern dance and the speed and
precision of ballet."
More important than technique, Fagan aims to give audiences a sense of
the fullness of life. For one thing, his dancers range in age from 21 to
59 years old. That's almost unheard of in the world of concert dance.
"We love the younger dancers that can jump and turn," Fagan says. "We
also like people who have been through a few things in life and give you
a very subtle movement that is not that vigorous, but can tell you
That approach is especially appropriate to Fagan's latest work, Madiba, a
tribute to Nelson Mandela, set to music by South African jazz composer
Abdullah Ibrahim. Madiba, titled for the name of Mandela's clan,
represents Fagan's interpretation of key moments in the South African
leader's life and in the life of his country.
Miami native Vitolio Jeune performs a solo in the piece, called "Talking
Drums," where the dancer listens to and interprets the rhythm and
evokes what Fagan calls the "time before cell phones." He laughs, "Even I
wasn't born then."
But don't think that Fagan resists technology. Throughout the piece,
dancer Norwood Pennewell wears a camera that records video that is
streamed live on stage.
"I just thought and thought about how I could amplify the suffering he
went through," Fagan explains. "You get fragments of dancers on the
screen in back. You get feet. You get legs. You get torsos and bodies.
That represents what happens when you get kicked in the head. When you
look back on your past, the imagery is not exactly clear."
Garth Fagan Dance performs at 8 p.m. at the South Miami-Dade Cultural
Arts Center (10950 SW 211 Street, Cutler Bay) this Saturday. Tickets
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cost $5 to $25. Call 786-573-5300 or visit smdcac.org.
--By Celeste Fraser Delgado, Artburstmiami.com