Review of Garth Fagan at Jacob’s Pillow
June 19, 2008 performance reviewed by Connell McGrath
Garth Fagan returned to Jacob’s Pillow this week after a hard-to-bear three year absence. His company performed Griot New York, a 1991 work originally commissioned by Brooklyn Academy of Music and others. Griot New York is a collaboration between Fagan and Wynton Marsalis, who wrote the original score, and with Martin Puryear, who designed the sets. Costumes were by Garth Fagan along with Martin Puryear. The score by Marsalis is extremely good, mainstream jazz. Fun to listen to and with a depth of musical complexity, mastery and feeling. The sets were a little funny, and it was a stretch to associate them with the dance in some cases. (Why the oversized melted spatula? what could it have meant?) Costumes were excellent. 2014 Jacob’s Pillow schedule, Contact info. and links
The choreography, however, was uneven, though the great parts more than made up for the less successful. When Fagan focuses on rhythmic dance truly based on the music, he excels as usual. He brings his great gift for blending jazz, modern and African dance styles to bear on the project. He attempted in Griot to intersperse the bigger, faster and more successful passages — such as City Court Dance, Oracabessa Sea and High-Rise Riff — with slower passages. While these passages were original and somewhat interesting, they can’t compare with the brilliance of his moral rhythmic work. It seemed as if he was reaching too far for depth and meaning. Also, he is rightly trying to balance a full evening length work with variety. Unfortunately, in 1991 he couldn’t do this kind of work well.
The highlights of the evening were the three previously mentioned sections. City Court Dance starts Griot New York with a terrific up-tempo jazz beat and thrilling, original dance. He ends it in the same fashion with High-Rise Riff.
Garth Fagan is most famous for choreographing The Lion King on Broadway. It’s what’s always mentioned. While the constant refrain of Lion King gets old quickly, it points to Garth’s true genius. He is best when he’s mixing entertainment with his blend of modern-jazz-afro-caribbean dance. This in itself certainly provides enough meaning to his work, and he doesn’t have to reach further.