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Garth Fagan Dance Company

Programme One: 'Discipline is Freedom,' 'The Innocent, The Brave, The Minds...All Mankind,' 'Touring Jubilee 1924,' 'Music of the Line/Words In the Shape,' 'Woza'

by Katie Phillips

April 2, 2003 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

On the first program of Garth Fagan's recent season at the Sadler's Well in London, the set opens with a class scene reminiscent of the 1980s. Girls clad in leotards and leg warmer do step-ball-change and clap their hands, immediately probing into whether Fagan is merely experimenting with previously used, second-hand dance movement.

In pieces like "Discipline is Freedom" his choreographic structures are simple and clear. The dancers perform much of the work in unison, flitting on and off stage like a herd of gazelles, in swift and engaging linear patterns. His use of opposites works well --fast and slow, stillness and movement, sound and silence. Sharp and precise lines are subverted by dead limbs and floppy wrists. This "cubist" choreography lends Fagan the artistic title of body sculptor --shaping the body within space, creating sequences of movements as if by chance, strung together with staccato fusion. However, there is no development of movement sequences and the repetitions of phrases are like a joke that the more you tell, the less funny it becomes.

There is a sense of something missing -- movement for movement’s sake is all very well, but if this piece is there only to be enjoyed, then it should be enjoyable to watch. One can imagine that their technique class is a wonderful experience, but that rep time is spent with a lot of ‘gap filling’ -- static leg lifts to fill in a count or two whilst the others in the trio are finishing their lift.

The question is then posed -- why does Fagan not just stick to the enjoyable works like "Woza," and "Moth Dreams?" These uplifting, colourful and virtuoso pieces are where the company excels, consisting of energetic and strong African movements set to throbbing scores incorporating percussion, choral sounds and birdsong.

The fact that both programs consisted of so many short pieces seems to imply that Fagan is full of beginnings that phase out into frustrated ideas; that he is following a maze of dead ends in his quest to become a "serious artist." What he does not seem to realise is that you can’t just throw a bunch of very specific techniques together and then add some chicken arms and flinching into the bargain and expect a postmodern masterpiece to emerge.

The piece entitled "In Memoriam" was safeguarded by its dedication to the victims and survivors of September the 11th. The dancers stroked the floor with their feet and kept their eyes firmly downcast. The movement was appropriately weighty grounded and solemn, whereas the choreography was not -- this piece should have been moving.

Both programs seem less about choreographic depth, intensity or provocation, more about the "Fagan technique"-- fast spins, high leg kicks and a plagiarism of Graham, Cunningham, release and Dunham (African) technique, tacked together with gaping seams. There is no free flow between styles, rather an incongruous juxtaposition of static movements, good only for photographic images of slow silhouettes and duet/trio montages. Disciplined it is, free it is not.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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