Kathy reviews 'Garth Fagan Dance: Up Close and Personal' 

click to enlarge Garth Fagan Dance presented a performance at the company's studio on Thursday night. - PHOTO BY KATHY LALUK
  • PHOTO BY KATHY LALUK
  • Garth Fagan Dance presented a performance at the company's studio on Thursday night.
Garth Fagan has been a fixture in the Rochester community for nearly 50 years for a reason — he has a distinct style that is instantly recognizable, but he is constantly coming up with fresh ways to present his style of dance. That was very clear at his company’s Fringe presentation this year.

Thursday evening's performance started out with a Fagan classic, “Prelude,” which features the entire company. The dancers start off slowly, isolating different parts of their bodies as if they were warming up. Different groups go in and out of sync with one another intentionally, highlighting every dancer. The music shifts to a more upbeat, tribal piece with wooden xylophones. The dancers gracefully do leaps and barrel rolls across the stage with vivid energy.

The next piece is a new work by Norwood Pennewell and features electropop music, a departure from what I would typically associate with Garth Fagan Dance. But it works masterfully. Pennewell takes advantage of the repetitive rhythms in the music to enhance the narrative. Two groups of dancers extend their legs with gentle poise, before stomping their feet hard to the beat. The piece feels full of life.

The third and fourth pieces use more traditional music by Brahms and the Art Ensemble of Chicago juxtaposed against more Afro-centric movement. The fourth piece is loosely based on the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the serpent. A group of about 8 to 10 dancers in colorful leotards and cropped pants undulate and writhe in unison in a line to mimic the snake in a brilliantly effective way, eventually striking out on their own in a line across the stage. Eve (Rishell Maxwell) and Adam (Vitolio Jenue) flawlessly shift between smooth arabesques and ballet-like slow movement to more frenetic modern dance moves as they weave through the serpent, eventually finding each other and syncing up with each other’s rhythms.

The excerpts from the final piece, called “The North Star” pay homage to Frederick Douglass. In the first excerpt, three women said to represent Douglass’s first and second wives and his daughter show off their incredible extension, performing arabesques and split leaps with pin wheeling arms with ease and grace.

They eventually come together, embracing one another and moving as one unit, from leg lifts to leaps (no small feat). The final excerpt is a play on a typical ballet Reverence, in which dancers typically thank the orchestra. This time, however, one of the 15 Frederick Douglass statues from around Rochester is placed at the back of the stage, as the dancers bounce exuberantly around to the jazzy music, reaching for the sky and then moving swiftly into deep bows of gratitude for Rochester’s famed freedom fighter. The dancers exude such pride it’s hard not to swell up with emotion by the performance’s end.

Garth Fagan Dance: Up Close & Personal will be performed again Friday, September 20, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, September 21, at 2 p.m. at the Garth Fagan Dance Studio on Chestnut Street. Tickets are $20. Appropriate for all ages.
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