Garth Fagan Brings Dance Troupe and Positive Human Motion to Chautauqua


Ballet brings speed and precision to dance, and Afro-Caribbean movements are deeply rooted in the torso. When these two styles are united with the flavor of contemporary pas de deux and a range of skills honed for more than 46 years, one gets something truly human, and an expression of what that means.

Garth Fagan, a choreographer known around the world for his work on the musical The Lion King, will bring his dance troupe to Chautauqua Institution at 8:15 p.m. August 24 in the Ampitheater to show the good in the world and the positivity in life with purely human movement.

“I love the idea of people dancing as people,” Fagan said. “[My dancers] are not playing a prince or a swan. Our moves are very human-esque.”

He said his company’s performance does not require an understanding of ballet in order to feel and learn from it.

“I fought classical all the way, and I’m so glad. I want to invite everyone to feel it,” he said. “If you play soccer or basketball, you’ll feel it.”

When Fagan was growing up in Jamaica, his parents gave him his first taste of the arts, including jazz. As a young adult, Fagan toured with a Jamaican dance company, and that’s when his teacher, Ivy Baxter, recognized his natural talents, and urged him to explore movement and dance further.

“She said, ‘You’ve got some talent you don’t know.’ The bug bit me because of her,” he said.

When he went to New York, he developed his taste and style as a dancer and choreographer.

He said his movements were shallow and exuberant, but he learned to pare it down and “simplify, simplify, simplify.”

The show will open with a piece Fagan choreographed called “Prelude: Discipline is Freedom.” The title comes from his dad’s mantra.

“It means you do something again and again,” he said. “You go to work to get freedom.”

Norwood Pennewell and Natalie Rogers, principal dancers in Fagan’s company, assisted him in his Tony award-winning choreography for The Lion King. Pennewell, who choreographs and acts as Fagan’s assistant in the company, will show his own work.

Pennewell’s piece “So You See” was inspired by another of Fagan’s principal dancers, Sade Bully.

Fagan’s choreography to Wynton Marsalis’ “Spring Yaoundé” will show three separate pas de deux. One features an interracial pair, the next a same-sex pair and then one with a male and female union.

He said the dance is about allowing people to be who they are. He said the message is that you do not have to change who you are to accept others.

Other works included in the program are “No Evidence of Failure,” with music by Monty Alexander; “Mudan 175-39,” which was created to celebrate the city of Rochester, where Fagan formed Garth Fagan Dance; and “Touring Jubilee,” which represents a dance company in a small town.

The final piece of the night will be “Geoffrey Holder Life Fete … Bacchanal,” which pays tribute to Holder, a dancer and choreographer who greatly influenced Fagan as an artist.

The whole program explores different aspects of humanity and music. The variation in style and form comes from the company’s 46 years of experience. Some principal dancers have been with Fagan for more than 30 years.

“In 46 years, you go through a lot of dancers,” Fagan said. “And you see a lot of stuff. [The show] is a celebration of humanity.”

Fagan looks at dance much like artists from other crafts view their medium.

“The canvas for my work is human beings,” he said. “They do a lot that marble and oil don’t do.”

Andrew Manzella

The author Andrew Manzella

Andrew Manzella is a reporter and feature writer from western New York. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in journalism from SUNY Buffalo State.