Choreographer Garth Fagan on His New Season

Garth Fagan has won awards for his thrilling choreography and has entertained audiences for decades. He talked to The Root about his latest work, what inspires him and more.

Garth Fagan (Getty Images)

Garth Fagan has been delighting audiences for more than 50 years. Called by critics "a true original," "a genuine leader" and "one of the great reformers of modern dance," he is founder and artistic director of the acclaimed Garth Fagan Dance, now in its 40th-anniversary season. His numerous honors include winning the 1998 Tony Award for best choreography for The Lion King.  

He also choreographed the first fully staged production of the Duke Ellington street opera Queenie Pie at the Kennedy Center in 1986, and the opening production of Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival's Shakespeare Marathon: A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1988. He has earned commissions from Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York City Ballet and the José Limón Company. The Root talked with Fagan before he began his new season at New York City's Joyce Theater -- Nov. 9 through Nov. 14 -- about his appreciation of women dancers, his influences and how the arts are faring in the tough economy.

The Root: What can audiences look forward to this season?

Garth Fagan: Our celebrating 40 years in dance. It's amazing to me. We've been cheered around the world. I'm also choreographing a beautiful solo in my new work for Nicolette Depass to Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, played by Yo-Yo Ma. She's just had a baby and has grown so much as a person. It's wonderful to see what she does with it.

TR: You have always featured women in your choreography, giving them as challenging and athletic movements as your men. Is there a reason for this?

GF: It probably all goes back to my mother and aunts in Jamaica. They were so warm, loving, strong, smart and capable. I never saw them as less than men or second-class citizens. My female dancers are just as strong as my men, and they love being able to show it. I'm all about gender equality. My women can kick ass.

TR: And what about your men?

GR: Athletic, virile. Full of testosterone. They're a big part of the new dance, too. In one section, I use a drum piece by Bonga Kwenda, not all percussion, more melodic. Very subtle and very beautiful. The work ends with all my 13 dancers and the music of Gerald Albright, that '70s sound.

TR: The program announces a new work by your dancer Norwood Pennewell. How did that come about?

TR: What's distinctive about your troupe?