Grantee Spotlight: Garth Fagan Dance

Garth Fagan, a native of Jamaica, created his eponymous dance company. when he was in his early 30s. While he went on to wide acclaim as the choreographer of Broadway megahit The Lion King, among other accomplishments, he has remained steadfastly based in Rochester, N.Y. “I have traveled around the world, but it is always so wonderful to come back home,” he says. “Rochester is such an important part of me.”

Now 77, Fagan has remained highly involved in every facet of the company over the past four decades. He recruits dancers, develops new choreography and bears witness to the power of dance in every setting, including the years he served on NYSCA’s Dance Program grant selection panel.

“I want to say hosannas and halleluiahs because NYSCA has been an amazing part of the life of my company,” he says. “I’m always busy and I’m a workaholic but for a long time now they have been at the foundation.”

The Dance Program has been providing general support to the company for 20 years, supporting its performances and tours as well as its steady presence in Rochester.

Fagan is an accomplished dancer and choreographer whose work (promoted as the Fagan Technique”) draws from modern, Afro-Caribbean and ballet traditions. A onetime student of Martha Graham, he has built a formidable resume including the Broadway mega-hit The Lion King. While he and his company perform frequently in New York City, Fagan originally launched his company in Rochester, where he moved in 1970 and where it remains based.

Garth Fagan dancers
Garth Fagan Dance in A Moderate Cease. Photo by Erich Camping.

Serving the Rochester community is at the core of the company’s mission. GFDC conducts classes for local residents on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each year, the company also convenes the Summer Movement Institute, which aims to introduce core principles to the uninitiated. Through NYSCA’s Special Arts Services Program, GFDC provides scholarships to students in need.

Whether in classes or in the main company, Fagan relishes the chance to reach a diverse population of dancers—children as young as three years old and other non-traditional participants. “We do have lots of senior dancers,” he says. “Dance is the one art that discards people as they get older. We go from 20 to 65—I love that mix because that’s how society is. … We’re predominately a black company but we have all other races too.”

Travel provides constant inspiration. “When we were in New Zealand, we danced with the Maoris. The strength of those male dancers was so astounding,” Fagan says. Being on tour enables Fagan to see up close how movement is an integral part of global cultures. By exploring those diverse traditions and carrying the torch back home to New York State, he is enriching artistic possibilities for everyone. “One of the dancers I found was in Zambia—boy, did she understand dynamic range,” he recalls “She danced so beautifully that I asked her to do one of her own for us … I just wanted the company to understand.”

—Dade Hayes

Cover image: Garth Fagan Dance in In Conflict. Photo by Erich Camping.