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Garth Fagan
Born: 1940
Occupation: dancer, choreographer
Garth Fagan was born in Jamaica, West Indies. The son of an educator, his father had once been Jamaica's chief education officer. Fagan came to the United States at age 20 to attend college after training and performing with Ivy Baxter and the Jamaica National Dance Theater in his teens.

In the United States, he first settled in Detroit, where he directed the All-City Dance Company and danced with the Detroit Contemporary Dance Company and the Dance Theater of Detroit. He studied with Martha Graham, Jose Limon, Mary Hinkson, and Alvin Ailey before accepting a professorship at the State University of New York at Brockport in 1969. He also taught at the SUNY-affiliated Educational Opportunity Center in Rochester (preparing mostly minority, disadvantaged youth for college).

In 1970 Fagan started his own dance company, based in Rochester, N.Y. Because the dancers consisted of inner-city youth and students who came late to dance, the company was originally called The Bottom of the Bucket, But ... Dance Theatre. As the dancers improved and the company gained stature, the name was changed to The Bucket Dance Theatre in 1981, and by the company's 20th year they had become simply Garth Fagan Dance.

Over time, Fagan developed a unique, signature movement style and vocabulary, combining elements of modern dance and ballet with African and Caribbean rhythms and postures. After extensive training with him, Fagan's dancers, like those of George Balanchine, achieve a certain look, regardless of the body they started with: long, lean, leggy, muscular, yet retaining their individuality onstage, his dancers move quickly with precision and energy from storklike balances to fluid leaps and spiraling jumps that spring from no apparent preparation.

Fagan has been acclaimed for his dances for couples, such as the 1990 "Until, By & If." Fagan's couples wrap around one another creating sensuous and electric dynamics. Music for a Fagan work is often live and has included collaborations with jazz pianist Don Pullen and jazz composer and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Fagan worked with Marsalis and sculptor Martin Puryear for his 1991 "Griot New York." In "Mask Mix Masque" (1986), an interview with fellow Jamaican Grace Jones is interspersed with her song, "Slave to the Rhythm." Popular works in the repertory include an early men's trio, "Oatka Trail," named for a wilderness park between Rochester and Buffalo, and "Prelude" (1981). Both works aptly illustrate the key Fagan elements of balance and discipline.

-- Julinda Lewis-Ferguson

Emery, Lynne Fauley. BLACK DANCE FROM 1619 TO TODAY. 2nd ed. Princeton, N.J., 1988, pp. 309311.Thorpe, Edward. Black Dance. Woodstock, N.Y., 1990, pp. 153156.

Source Citation: "Garth Fagan." ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE AND HISTORY. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reprinted by permission of Gale Group.