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Our History

660 Cities. 24 Countries. 6 Continents. We are Garth Fagan Dance!

Garth Fagan Dance is an internationally acclaimed contemporary American dance company, a bustling school of dance with an enrollment of 400 students, and a community-based resource of broad and growing influence, whose home has remained in Rochester for almost five decades.

The company’s start began in the ‘70s when the country was just beginning to emerge from a tumultuous decade of riots and widespread unrest.  As part of his recent appointment to the faculty at the State University of New York in Brockport, Garth Fagan began teaching dance classes at the SUNY Educational Opportunity Center in downtown Rochester.

Many of his students had no previous training.  Most came from inner city, economically disadvantaged backgrounds.  But Fagan was so inspired by their raw talent and tenacity that he decided to transform this highly unconventional group of dancers into a professional company, based not in one of the world’s cultural capitals but in upstate New York.

From this early start, the organization has continued to evolve, shaped by the values that first prompted its formation, Garth Fagan Dance is still dedicated to the sentiments expressed in its founding mission…

Our Mission

To advance, nurture, and sustain

Garth Fagan’s pioneering vision of contemporary dance through…

 

Creation, performance, and preservation of his choreography

and the commissioning of works by company dancers.

 

Dance training that encourages young people, regardless of their

race, gender, or financial resources to develop their full potential.

 

Educational programs, performances, and activities

that enrich communities and engage audiences.

Garth Fagan Dance has been acclaimed as “unfailingly original” by The New York Times, which also named the Company’s piece Mudan 175/39 third of the top six dance watching moments of 2009. Tony award-winning choreographer Garth Fagan’s dancers communicate with unbridled energy the depth, precision, and grace of Fagan’s work. The Company’s “fearless” dancers are “able to sustain long adagio balances, to change direction in mid-air, to vary the dynamic of a turn, to stop on a dime,” wrote David Vaughan in Ballet Review. Fagan’s ever-evolving dance language draws on many sources: sense of weight in modern dance, torso-centered movement and energy of Afro-Caribbean, speed and precision of ballet, and the rule breaking experimentation of the post-moderns.

 

The Company has been cited for its excellence and originality with a New York Governor’s Arts Award and has claimed five winners of “Bessie” Awards (New York Performance Awards): Garth Fagan (1990), Steve Humphrey (1984), Norwood Pennewell (1988), Natalie Rogers (1992), and Sharon Skepple (1999). 

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Photo of Bessie Award Winners

Photograhy by: Steve Labuzetta

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Company Timeline

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G. Garth Fagan was born May 3rd in Kingston, Jamaica. 

His parents were Louise Walker and S.W. Fagan, an Oxford man and the chief education officer of Jamaica. His father lived by the credo, "Discipline is Freedom."

Garth's Parents

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Louise Walker

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Garth - age 8

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Fagan at the Wand Theatre, Kingston, Jamaica

At 16, Fagan began to dance and tour Latin America with Ivy Baxter and the Jamaica National Dance Company. The dancers were world-traveled, they were racy, they wore beautiful clothes, and not only did they look fast, they were fast, in the old-fashioned way.

In 1959, Fagan, as part of the Jamaica National Dance Company, performed at the inauguration of Cuban President Fidel Castro. Early major influences from Caribbean dance teachers include Ivy Baxter, Pearl Primus, and Lavinia Williams.

1940

1950s

Garth Fagan was born in Jamaica in 1940, to achievement-minded parents who were not thrilled when their son, at 16, began to dance and tour with Ivy Baxter's Jamaica National Dance Theater. "Hell, no!" Mr. Fagan says, laughing. "The dancers were world-traveled, they were racy, they wore beautiful clothes, and not only did they look fast, they were fast, in the old-fashioned way." Mr. Fagan did not mind his parents' skepticism too much; back then, he said, he did not want to be a dancer: "I wanted to be an artist -- a painter." Still, he dutifully went to college, at Wayne State University in Detroit, intending to study psychology. "My dad would say, 'Garth, discipline is freedom.' I used to hate it!" he says. But somehow he choreographed countless college productions, and attended dance festivals around the country, and took classes with Martha Graham. Dance beat out art as Mr. Fagan's primary creative calling, and today his father's credo lives on in the subtitle of the company's signature work. "Prelude: Discipline Is Freedom."

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S.W. Fagan

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