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Two world premieres, one by the “Lion King,” Tony Award-winning choreographer Garth Fagan and the other by Fagan’s muse, rehearsal director and “Bessie Award” winner Norwood Pennewell, are among the highlights of Garth Fagan Dance’s 45th anniversary celebration that takes place at The Joyce Theater, November 3-8.
Fagan’s own incandescent spirit shines through his choreographic tribute to his friend, choreographer/actor/director/dancer/costume designer/painter Geoffrey Holder, who died this past year at 84. Originally titled “Dance for/With Geoffrey,” the dance has undergone a series of major revisions since its premiere at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in August. The music by Robert Greenidge and spoken text by Leo Holder, however, remains the same.
The new title, “Geoffrey Holder Life Fete…Bacchanal” recognizes the partying life spirit of the gregarious artist, with “Bacchanal” referring to the Trinidadian description of a great party. “How was it?” “Bacchanal.” And such was Holder’s life, according to Fagan, whose dance celebrates that and Holder’s 59 year marriage to Carmen de Lavallade. The brand new ending radiates the same unfiltered exuberance Holder gave to the dance world specifically, and to our lives in general.
A new dance, “So You See,” Norwood Pennewell’s fifth for the Fagan company, is described as a “loose narrative” by the choreographer, who has danced with Fagan for 36 years. Responding in a variety of different ways to the score comprised of music by Vijay Iyer and Marc Cary, Pennewell’s dance explores and celebrates a woman’s encounters, reflections and conclusions about a love affair gone wrong.
A 45th anniversary is also a time to dial back a bit and take stock. Hence, the season is studded with some of Fagan’s most beloved works that speak to the eclectic range of his musical and movement imagination. These include selections from “Oatka Trail” from 1979, now performed by women, the oldest on the programs; “Prelude (Discipline is Freedom)” premiered in 1981; excerpts from “Griot New York” premiered at BAM in 1991; “Two Pieces of One: Green” from 1998; “Passion Distanced” performed first in 1987; an excerpt from “Woza” from 1999 and “Thanks Forty (Five)” premiered in 2010 and revised in April, 2015. Most shows open with Fagan’s “Prelude (Discipline is Freedom)” which establishes his singular dance technique as it inspires a jaw-dropping response from the audience.