Feature: Garth Fagan Dance

Friday 7 April 2006

Garth Fagan Dance
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 4-8 March
reviewed by David Helms

Drawing the Line
The secret to Garth Fagan Dance is drawing. This is a dance language that is highly structured and pictorial, like hieroglyphics. I had never seen anything like it and had no road maps, no templates to help read or interpret what these dances was about or how they were working. But they were working. The result was original, a word that had definitely been dropped from my critical vocabulary, but a word that everyone seems to reach for when struggling to describe Garth Fagan Dance.

Fagan draws dance images, shapes and structures with human bodies. They are so physically present, so strong and clear and precise in their drawing, that we get the picture. But the picture we get is not communicated primarily through the visual, but through the kinesthetic. And this is the secret exquisite joy of the Garth Fagan Dance experience.

We too have bodies which can feel —- or remember the feeling —- so the jazzy kinetics really reach the body, heart and soul. We too can relive leaping across a stage or playground in the way this dance company does in muscular and miraculous solos and duets, or in long lines that are often juxtaposed with still figures in unusual sculptural shapes.

This is both Fagan’s genius and his downfall. It’s a tricky ride… the silences and pauses can seem more eloquent than the noisy passages. The ‘not exactly on the beat’ moments can be dangerously delicious, the sudden stops can be breathtaking, but to leave the audience hanging in mid-air and mid-breath as Fagan does at the end of the second part of Music of the Line/Words in the Shape is a mistake. It felt as if the whole performance was over and some people actually did leave.

To my mind his choreography is calligraphic. My Collins dictionary tells me calligraphy means not only handwriting but beautiful handwriting. Garth Fagan’s dance is beautifully handwritten.
Medium & Message
Review by Francisco Javier Orjales-Mourente

There is nothing wrong with dance for dance’s sake if the dance is good enough to stand on its own merits. In this particular case, one should also say ‘dance for the dancers’ sake’. The one thing that saves Garth Fagan’s work is the supreme technical skill of his dancers. Performing with wild abandon, changing with a gazelle-like speed from sensuous sinuosity to aggressive attack, they make this choreography worth watching.

Otherwise, it is not particularly interesting. Fagan’s choreography is not good enough to rely on his so-called technique, or the ability of his dancers’ near perfection, to carry a whole performance beyond the merely obvious.

Ultimately, you need to have an outstanding choreographic skill if you are going to attempt a piece about such a horrific atrocity as 9/11. Although the mood of ‘In Memoriam’, the second piece of the first programme, is quite clear, the images on stage do not speak of such events. To make such a piece, you do not need to be an architect of movement —- which Fagan almost is —- but you do need to be a poet of movement, and that Fagan is not.

As a dance entertainment, this is about as good as it comes. The dancers make it so. There is, however, something missing. That something is my own preference for dance to speak not only through its physicality but beyond its physicality. It has to have a message in order for it to be relevant to the world around me. That is what I am about. I am not sure what Fagan is about.

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