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Dance a new dance

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Returning to Nazareth Arts Center November 30 through December 5, Garth Fagan Dance introduced new dancers and an already acclaimed new work and demonstrated again why they are Rochester's only performing arts group to receive annual plaudits worldwide.

I'm not sure that departed company icon Natalie Rogers or the superb Chris Morrison can be replaced, but they are followed by some impressively fast-rising new stars. In just two years, Keisha Laren Clarke and Guy Thorne have become indispensable principal dancers. And Annique S. Roberts, who joined the company only last April, is already dancing lead roles beautifully.

Momo Peter Sanno is also looking wonderful, fully integrated into the difficult Fagan technique in little over a year. Of the women, only the completely dependable Nicolette Depass has been with the company more than two years.

Excepting, that is, the incredible Sharon Skepple, who was very large in pregnancy when bringing on bouquets last season at Nazareth. Back in shape, somehow, and looking maybe 19, Skepple performed the impossible solo that Fagan made for her to open his 1999 Woza. With more dazzling control than ever, she danced its better-than-6-o'clock extensions, long-held balances, and convoluted twists of her rubber band body. I wonder how many in the understandably gasping and applauding audience knew that Sharon gave birth to a beautiful baby girl less than 11 months ago.

It's nothing new that company seniors Norwood Pennewell and Steve Humphrey continue to defy any aging process and, in their 26th and 33rd years with Fagan, respectively, grow sleeker and more accomplished. Bill Ferguson, the remaining longtime company stalwart, is also dancing in top shape. And all of the above-mentioned dancers, plus Michelle Hebert and the dynamic Kevin Ormsby, are featured in Fagan's newest work, ----ing.

No, it's not what you think --- though I know Garth must have a grinning awareness that his title looks like a censor's bleep. The three movements (of the four in Brahms' Clarinet Quintet in B minor) are called "loving aims," "caring flames," and "healing pains and lasting gains." Thorne and Roberts lead the first section.

Pennewell opens the second in a trademark daringly slow and sustained soliloquy resembling others that Fagan has built on Pennewell's distinctively controlled expressiveness. Then Clarke and Roberts, Ferguson and Thorne dance loving same-sex couples, sequeing into their male-female couples and back again, all not so much led by Pennewell as inspired by him. The finale with the full company is brighter and more high-spirited. Brahms would have been amazed but probably pleased.

The opening night program also featured two of my favorite Fagan dances. It started with last year's tribute to Fagan's friend Romare Bearden, DANCECOLLAGEFORROMIE, which I described in detail last season. It looked every bit as good with mostly the same dancers, except for new dancer Todd VanSlambrouck and apprentice Ryan Rose.

Then ----ing was followed by a rousing performance of Woza,Fagan's first work with composer Lebo M after The Lion King. Annique Roberts danced technically perfectly in the second section. But it seemed to me that she had danced to and with Guy Thorne but didn't really relate to Pennewell. The company attacked the irresistible music with gusto, sparked by the incomparable Pennewell and Skepple.

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