top of page

our history

660  Cities. 24 Countries. 6 Continents. We are Garth Fagan Dance!

Garth Fagan Dance is an internationally acclaimed contemporary American dance company, a bustling school of dance with an enrollment of 400 students, and a community-based resource of broad and growing influence, whose home has remained in Rochester for almost five decades.

The company’s start began in the ‘70s when the country was just beginning to emerge from a tumultuous decade of riots and widespread unrest.  As part of his recent appointment to the faculty at the State University of New York in Brockport, Garth Fagan began teaching dance classes at the SUNY Educational Opportunity Center in downtown Rochester.

Many of his students had no previous training.  Most came from inner city, economically disadvantaged backgrounds.  But Fagan was so inspired by their raw talent and tenacity that he decided to transform this highly unconventional group of dancers into a professional company, based not in one of the world’s cultural capitals but in upstate New York.

From this early start, the organization has continued to evolve, shaped by the values that first prompted its formation, Garth Fagan Dance is still dedicated to the sentiments expressed in its founding mission…


To advance, nurture, and sustain

Garth Fagan’s pioneering vision of contemporary dance through…


Creation, performance, and preservation of his choreography

and the commissioning of works by company dancers.


Dance training that encourages young people, regardless of their

race, gender, or financial resources to develop their full potential.


Educational programs, performances, and activities

that enrich communities and engage audiences.

years submenu




  • In September 2017, Garth Fagan receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from the prestigious American Dance Guild.

  • Dignitaries from around the world wishing Garth Fagan Dance & Garth Fagan happy birthday at the 45th anniversary gala.

  • Garth Fagan Dance performs its 26th season at The Joyce Theater in New York City in the fall of 2015 with the premier of GEOFFREY HOLDER LIFE FETE … BACCHANAL and returns again in 2017 with the premier of ESTROGEN/GENIUS.   Norwood Pennewell continues to bring work to the stage with WECOO DUENDE.

  • In the fall of 2014, Ebony Repertory Theater hosts a five-day company residency at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in LA.  In his year-end wrap up, Los Angeles Times critic Lewis Segal hails Garth Fagan as an “American Master,” then goes on to say “The soul deep conviction and spectacular flair of PRELUDE: DISCIPLINE IS FREEDOM may have been the indispensable dance experience of the year.”

  • NO EVIDENCE OF FAILURE premieres in November 2013.

  • The Max & Marian Farash Foundation award one of only five $100,000 grants to Garth Fagan Dance to launch Stop the Violence Dance Alliance in September 2013.


  • The Dance Heritage Coalition adds Garth Fagan to its list of America’s 100 Irreplaceable Dance Treasures in November 2012.

  • Garth Fagan Dance kicks off 40th Anniversary Celebration with dancers performing in the “Alumni Romp” at the Home Season in November 2010.  Dancer Norwood Pennewell choreographs his first piece for the company, HYLOZOIC.

  • LIGHTHOUSE/LIGHTNING ROD, Garth Fagan’s second collaboration with Wynton Marsalis premieres at the 30th Anniversary of the BAM Next Wave Festival in September 2012.


garth fagan reaches

milestone anniversaries

  • The New York Times selects Garth Fagan’s MUDAN 175/39 as the third of six top dance events of the year in December 2009.  The work featured an original score by the internationally renowned Ying Quartet, the quartet-in-residence and faculty members at the prestigious Eastman School of Music.

  • Gleason Foundation makes final gift of $500,000 in June, 2007.  Over a 10-year period, the foundation contributed over $1.4 million to Garth Fagan Dance.

  • Bill Ferguson becomes Director and Resident Choreographer of the Garth Fagan Dance Student Ensemble in 2007.

  • Company performs at the inauguration of Governor Elliott Spitzer in Albany on January 1, 2007.

  • The Company tours in Italy and Germany.

  • Garth Fagan’s meditation on youth and maturity, SENKU, premieres in 2006.

  • Natalie Rogers becomes Director of the Garth Fagan Dance School in 2006.

  • Ruby Lockhart appointed Garth Fagan Dance’s 1st executive director in December, 2004.

  • Company performs GRIOT NEW YORK for the opening of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in November 2004.

  • Company performs at City Center’s Fall for Dance in October 2004.


  • Summer Movement Institute begins in July 2004.

  • Garth Fagan Dance renovates and expands its headquarters in March 2004.

  • Dance Magazine readers select Natalie Rogers as one of their “Top Three Favorite Female Modern Dancers” in 2004.

  • Garth Fagan’s tribute to artist Romare Bearden, DANCECOLLAGEFORROMIE, premieres in 2003.

  • Garth Fagan Student Ensemble makes its debut at the company’s home season in December 2003.

  • Garth Fagan receives the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement on June 12, 2001.

  • The company appears for the 10th time at Jacob’s Pillow in June, 2000.


building an institution

  • Estate of Rochester’s Mary W. Clarke establishes an endowment of $845,000 with income to be used to support the work of Garth Fagan Dance in 1999.

  • In her review in February 1999, New York Times critic Anna Kisselgoff writes, “Mr. Fagan has come up with a dazzling piece; from finger to toe, everything dances in WOZA.

  • TWO PIECES OF ONE: GREEN premieres in 1998.

  • THE LION KING opens on Broadway on November 13, 1997.  In June, Garth Fagan receives the Tony Award for Outstanding Choreography.

  • Company appears for the first time at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in April 1997.

  • Company’s free performance in Rochester’s Manhattan Square Park attracts an SRO crowd of over 5,000 audience members in August 1995.

  • PBS’s Great Performances airs GRIOT NEW YORK in 1995.

  • Garth Fagan Dance receives the first of five grants totaling $655,000 from The Andrew H. Mellon Foundation in 1995.

  • Company opens the newly redone American Center in Paris with four performances of GRIOT NEW YORK in June 1994.

  • Valentina Alexander and Norwood Pennewell appear on The Tonight Show in1993.

  • Natalie Rogers and Norwood Pennewell perform at the Academy Awards.


  • Dancer Natalie Rogers receives the company’s third “Bessie” on September 1992.

  • GRIOT NEW YORK, Garth’s collaboration with Pulitzer-Prize-winning composer Wynton Marsalis and celebrated sculptor Martin Puryear premieres at the 10th Anniversary of the BAM Next Wave Festival in October 1991.

  • Garth Fagan receives a Bessie Award on September 12, 1990 for “an extraordinary Sustained Achievement in building a new dance language born of African, Caribbean and contemporary vocabularies, a physical whirlwind of mind and body.”

  • Garth Fagan Dance School officially opens its doors in September 1990.

  • Company tours to Hawaii, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland and performs for the first time at Lincoln Center in 1990.


griot new york &

the lion king

  • Norwood Pennewell receives a “Bessie” in September 1988.

  • Company conducts a 13-city tour of The Netherlands in November 1986.

  • Garth Fagan Dance receives the New York State Governor’s Arts Award in March 1986.

  • Company celebrates its 15th Anniversary with a USIA-sponsored African tour to Cameroon, the Congo, Egypt, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe in November 1985.

  • At the first annual New York Dance and Performance Awards on September 15 1984, Steve Humphrey becomes the first company member to receive the award more familiarly known as the “Bessie”.

  • Company launches its annual New York Season at The Joyce Theatre on March 27, 1984.

  • Garth Fagan Dance moves into its current Rochester, NY home at 50 Chestnut Street.


  • EASTER FREEWAY PROCESSIONAL with an original score by Philip Glass premieres in 1983.  In 1990, New York Times critic Jennifer Dunning proclaims “EASTER FREEWAY PROCESSIONAL may well become a modern-dance classic.”

  • Company selected as one of 11 modern dance companies to perform at “Dance Black America” festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in April 1983.

  • Company’s Home Season moves to Nazareth College Arts Center in September 1981.


forging a reputation

  • In 1978, FROM BEFORE premieres and, in 1979, OATKA TRAIL.

  • Company is one of six selected to represent the United States at the World Festival of Black Art in Lagos, Nigeria, in January 1977.  With more than 17,000 participants from over 50 countries, it is the largest cultural event ever held on the African continent.

  • Company appears for the first time at Jacob’s Pillow in June 1974.  In its first New York Times review, critic Anna Kisselgoff celebrates “the impressively disciplined young people who make up Bottom of the Bucket…Dance Theater” and “Garth Fagan, their brilliant choreographer and director.”


  • Garth Fagan’s first dance company, Bottom of the Bucket BUT…Dance Theater, gives its first public performance on November 15, 1970 in Buffalo.


the early years

Check out our

"Through The Years"

timeline, via desktop, for a more detailed version of our history!

bottom of page