Garth Fagan stages two dance premieres

05:00 AM, Dec 01, 2013

Vitolio Jeune is one of the dancers featured in Garth Fagan's newest work, No Evidence of Failure, premiering at Nazareth College Arts Center. (Jamie Germano/ / Staff Photographer)/


Written By Catherine Roberts | Lead Local Editor/Life

If you go

What: Garth Fagan Dance.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. next Sunday.
Where: Nazareth College Arts Center, 4245 East Ave., Pittsford.
Cost: $36 to $55.
For tickets: (585) 454-3260 or garthfagandance.org.

Garth Fagan Dance members enter the company’s studios on Chestnut Street and immediately warm up, not just with stretches but with specialized extensions that could only be taught by Fagan.

A back arches to the point where a typical person would fall backward, a leg is extended with every muscle participating in the move. It’s all part of the discipline that is evident in Fagan’s dancers — a discipline that helps him continue to write parts that celebrate company members like Natalie Rogers, who is 51 years old.

Rogers, a winner of a Bessie Award (equivalent to an Emmy or Grammy), took off eight years to raise her daughter. But she came back full-force last year, saying she missed the spiritual lift she received from performance dance.

Fagan says Rogers embodies his idea of what a mother and daughter should be, so he wrote a dance that celebrates not only her, but all working mothers, including his own mother.

Like Meryl Streep diving into a role that requires the kind of maturity that only someone of her age and experience could convey, Rogers embraces No Evidence of Failure. Fagan says he wrote it for someone who can show the emotions of someone with Rogers’ experiences.

The dance, to the music of Monty Alexander, is one of two premieres during the Garth Fagan Dance concert this week at Nazareth College Arts Center. The other, Gin, is by Fagan’s protégé, Norwood “PJ” Pennewell. The program also includes parts of last year’s debut, Lighthouse/Lightning Rod and, depending on the day, other pieces from the company’s repertoire.

No Evidence of Failure tells the story of a mother’s balancing act — showing the many varied tasks involved and the bone-tired pace that they require. Audiences saw Rogers’ solo as a preview at the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival, in Garth Fagan Dance’s studios on Chestnut Street.

I wanted to honor the modern woman,” says Fagan, adding that he is amazed at all that working mothers do. The solo remains intact, although “she does it much better, as you can see,” Fagan says.

But since the Fringe, Fagan was inspired to add a second part to the dance, the story of a woman’s partnership with her spouse. He’s quick to point out that the solo wasn’t lacking, that he’s very happy with Rogers’ work.

Once you do a dance, the muses tell you what to do,” he says. “It needed a second part. It doesn’t need a third.”

Fagan didn’t want people to see the woman in his dance as cold just because she’s portrayed as strong and efficient. He wanted people to share her joy as well.

The second scene is a love story, allowing each dancer (it’s a duet with Rogers and Vitolio Jeune) to lean in on the partner, adding a lightness and a happiness that show the moments of relaxation and of a deep life commitment to the family.

Sometimes, as with No Evidence of Failure, a dance is inspired by a person’s story and particular abilities. Other times, the music inspires a dance.

When Pennewell first heard “Blue Calx” by Alarm.Will.Sound (whose roots are at Eastman School of Music), he thought of the cotton gin and Gin was born.

Pennewell’s dance, which was previewed at the Fringe but not yet completed at that time, is full of mechanical movements working together. Yet it brings out the personalities of the company members as well.

And while Pennewell has since listened to cotton gins working and realized they don’t quite sound like “Blue Calx,” he still imagines the movements in his mind to the music. And he imagines all the derivations of the word “gin” as well.

He says he is learning how to write for particular dancers right now. This is the third full dance choreographed by Pennewell, also a Bessie Award winner and Fagan’s rehearsal director.

In the first two, he says, he was learning how the movements go together to produce a full-length piece. This time, he worked with “movement swatches” that he saw in the company’s classes and built upon those, giving solos and duets to different members throughout Gin.

I wanted to give (moves) that were familiar, yet were challenging also,” he says.

He added music by Yo-Yo Ma, New Black Music Repertory Ensemble Quartet and Felix Laband to fill out the four sections of the piece.

The end, which he calls the “road march,” reprises each of the solos or duets with variations to the group’s choreography.

Both No Evidence of Failure and Gin received positive reviews and standing ovations during the concert’s run at the Joyce Theatre in New York City last month. However, Pennewell is working with Fagan to refine Gin based on audience reaction and how the dance played out on a big performance stage.

Like the difference in Rogers’ solo performance in No Evidence for Failure from the Fringe to now, Gin will no doubt become tighter.