Known around the world for his groundbreaking choreography of Broadway’s The Lion King, Garth Fagan is widely acknowledged as one of the most dynamic and original artists working in the field today - architect of a distinct new movement style, creator of over 75 works for theater and the concert stage, inspired teacher, and the man who transformed Rochester, NY into an incubator for world-class contemporary dance.
Garth Fagan was born in Jamaica, West Indies in 1940. The son of an Oxford-educated father and Jamaica’s chief education officer, he began performing with Ivy Baxter’s Jamaican National Dance Company while he was still in high school.
In 1960, he came to the United States to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology at Detroit’s Wayne State University but continued dancing. He had almost completed the master’s program before concluding that dance was his true calling.
Over the course of a decade, he studied with Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham, Mary Hinkson and José Limon, and performed with Pearl Primus and Lavania Williams in New York. In Detroit, he directed the All-City Dance Company and choreographed and danced as a principal soloist with two other companies.
Founder & Artistic Director
Garth Fagan Dance
In 1969, he was invited to join the faculty of the State University of New York at Brockport. A year later, inspired by the raw talent and perseverance of the inner-city students he met while teaching at a SUNY-run extension program in Rochester, he founded his first dance company. As the company gained stature, the name changed to the more succinct Garth Fagan Dance.
Critics have hailed Garth Fagan as “a trail blazer,” “a wizard,” and “one of the great reformers of modern dance.” Not content with established traditions, he developed the Fagan Technique™ - a unique and evolving vocabulary, which fuses the weight of modern dance, the vitality of Afro-Caribbean movement, and the speed and precision of ballet with the risk-taking experimentation of post modernism.
His choreography defies classification with works ranging from his legendary celebration of African culture (THE LION KING) to a haunting portrait of urban life (Griot New York), from a stunning demonstration of technical prowess (Prelude: Discipline is Freedom) to a series of sensuous duets (Until, By & If I & II), and from a moving depiction of fortitude and struggle (Oatka Trail) to a joyous eruption of movement and sound (Woza).
The music he explores in his dances represents an eclectic blend of jazz, African, modern and classical traditions. Among the diversity of composers whose scores he has set to movement are Johannes Brahms, Miles Davis, Antonin Dvorak, Philip Glass, Abdullah Ibrahim, Wynton Marsalis, National Percussion Group of Kenya and Antonio Vivaldi. Often the music is specially commissioned for the piece.
Although he choreographs primarily for Garth Fagan Dance, Alvin Ailey American Dance, Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Limón Dance Company and New York City Ballet are among the other leading companies who have performed his works. He also created the choreography for a production of Duke Ellington’s only opera, Queenie Pie, at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Awards and Honors
Mr. Fagan has received countless awards and honors for his choreography, contributions to the field, teaching and life achievements. He holds honorary doctorates from The Juilliard School, the University of Rochester, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He is a recipient of the State University of New York’s Chancellor’s Award and the first faculty member in dance to attain the university’s highest rank.
American Dance Guild Lifetime Achievement Award
Arts & Cultural Council of Greater Rochester's Lifetime Achievement Award
Jamaican Government's Prime Minster's Award |" Irreplaceable Dance Treasures" by the Dance Heritage Coalition | Induction into the American Academy of Achievement | The Monarch Award from the National Council for Culture and Art | Wayne State University's Lillian Fairchild Award | The Apple Award - Sarah Applebaum Nederlander Award for Excellence in Theatre | Chancellor's Award-winning Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of the State University of New York | Honorary Doctorate from the Julliard School | Honorary Doctorate from the University of Rochester | Honorary Doctorate from Nazareth College of Rochester | Honorary Doctorate from Hobart & William Smith Colleges