Garth’s Looks

GARTH FAGAN DANCE choreographed by Garth Fagan, performed by the company, opens Tuesday (March 19) and runs to March 23.

GARTH FAGAN DANCE choreographed by Garth Fagan, performed by the company, opens Tuesday (March 19) and runs to March 23 at 8 pm. $21-$37.50. Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queen’s Quay West). 416-973-4000.

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garth fagan and his choreography have been around for more than 30 years, but it took a visit from Walt Disney to turn him into dance royalty.In 1998, Fagan choreographed Disney’s The Lion King, and his Tony Award-winning work reached audiences who’d never considered attending a modern dance show — until now.

“We’ve travelled around the world, and wherever we go people come backstage and say The Lion King made them want to see more,” says Fagan, on the phone from his studio in Rochester, New York.

While he may have broken new ground in choreographing that musical — he made giraffes and grass move with equal magic — he’s not about to use any Broadway razzmatazz to lure audiences to his more serious dance work. Fagan understands that concert dance is an acquired taste.

Consider the first piece in his company’s highly anticipated program that rolls into the Premiere Dance Theatre Tuesday.

The work, titled Prelude, opens in silence, with lights up on the dancers, and then moves on to a minute-and-a-half solo.

“This immediately shows the audience why they’re there,” says Fagan. “To see movement. There are no hidden agendas, no stories. The music comes later.”

The Fagan aesthetic is focused and sculptural, the dancers moving as if on a sea of air. His influences range from African and Caribbean — he was born in Jamaica — to ballet and modern.

It all adds up to a signature style.

“It’s something that took about 10 years to develop,” explains Fagan, who adds that his style is “no better or worse” than any other choreographer’s.

“Life is about variety,” he says. “Sometimes you want to see Fagan. Sometimes you want to see (Paul) Taylor. The spirit and eyes can take it all in.”

The show’s program spans 20 years, from Prelude, first choreographed in 1981, to In Memoriam, a meditative work that Fagan revised last fall after the September 11 tragedy.

“I had to do a piece to get it out of my system,” he says about In Memoriam. “I was stuck in L.A. for a week, planes weren’t taking off. I tried creating something new, but nothing worked until I looked at a section from an earlier work that used music from the 16th century. I restructured it, came up with some new movements and accentuated the grief motifs.”

Rounding out the program are works underscored with music by jazz artist Wynton Marsalis, minimalist John Adams and Zulu musician Lebo M (who also worked on The Lion King), hinting at the range of emotional colours on display.

“I cover a niche that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” says Fagan about his company’s longevity.

“Plus there are my dancers. The female dancers aren’t these little deer who need to be led around the stage they can do it themselves, as they do in their personal lives. The men aren’t macho idiots they can be gentle and fragile.

“I like the idea of virile grace as a metaphor for the company.”

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