Dance lovers owe a lot to Nazareth Arts Center, which brought us two of the world's greatest dance companies just weeks apart: the Paul Taylor Dance Company on November 9 and Rochester's Garth Fagan Dance December 4-8. Regular readers may be tired of my referring to the Fagan dancers' beauty, virtuosity, precision, energy, and commitment. And I know it's a cliché to say that Steve Humphrey still has a body to die for (he's 50 this season) and dances better each year. But those statements are true and important.
Fortunately, Garth Fagan Dance brought us new revelations, including a rapidly rising star and the introduction of a work that looks to become a Fagan classic.
The new work, Translation Transition, is set to bewitching music by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, led by Gary Crosby. It opens with a brilliant trio danced to Clement Dodd's hot, swinging "Ball of Fire." Remarkably, Natalie Rogers, Norwood Pennewell, and Sharon Skepple exude a complete bodily immersion in the rampaging music, although their movement is serious, slow, and sustained. Rogers enters first, bending toward the floor with one foot reaching out to the left, but head up, facing us. Repeated by succeeding dancers, the pose is almost a comment on Fagan's unique use of unusual positions --- crouching yet erect, and stretching and balancing elegantly. Pennewell then gallantly matches the diva's concentrated, stylish control, followed by Skepple's commanding use of her remarkable body, a body that somehow makes even thoughtful lyricism bravura.
The second section introduces the company's newest star: long-limbed, doe-eyed Keisha Clark. Partnered romantically by Steve Humphrey, to Wayne Shorter's intense "Footprints," she holds attention with her eyes while gliding through the dance with liquid thrust. When Bill Ferguson, Joel Valentin, Nicolette Depass, Kevin Ormsby, Jill Ahn, Debra McGee, and Guy Thorne enter, they too seem to be rejoicing in the music. But Humphrey and Clark relate to each other more like a couple on a ballroom floor than partners in a staged dance.
"One Love," the celebratory finale, has the whole company dancing to Harry Johnson's rousing "Liquidator," but it begins in silence, with a stunning solo by Clark, hypnotically holding sustained balances. Pennewell and Rogers follow with exquisite, slow unison balances that become close partnering as the music begins. Humphrey and Clark and Skepple join in, then another wonderful couple, Chris Morrison and Nicolette Depass. With most of the company dancing in thrilling upbeat energy to infectiously rhythmic music, the ending resembles many happy finales that earn this company repeated encores. But there is an overall compositional beauty and invention to Translation Transition that make me think it a special achievement.
The program also included the company's signature piece, Prelude: "Discipline is Freedom," In Memoriam..., last year's noble requiem for victims and survivors of 9/11; and River Song, Fagan's unique synthesis of Native American dance and modern dance, as well as Native American music and jazz. It was also a pleasure to revisit Fagan's 2001 Music of the Line/ Words in the Shape, another work I'd call a Fagan classic.
The performances throughout were splendid, as usual. But I should mention my special appreciation of Mary Nemecek Peterson's dressy costumes for the final section of Translation Transition (they would grace any designer's runway), and C.T. Oakes' knockout lighting for that dance, which masters the illusion that the light emanates from the dancers' bodies.