Critics have called Garth Fagan “a true original,” “a genuine leader,” and “one of the great reformers of modern dance.” Fagan is the founder and artistic director of the award-winning and internationally acclaimed Garth Fagan Dance, now celebrating its 40th Anniversary season. A Tony and Olivier award winner, Fagan continually renews his own distinctive dance vocabulary, which draws on many sources: sense of weight in modern dance, torso-centered movement and energy of Afro-Caribbean, speed and precision of ballet, and the rule breaking experimentation of the post-moderns. “Originality has always been Mr. Fagan’s strong suit, not least in his transformation of recognizable idioms into a dance language that looks not only fresh but even idiosyncratic,” writes Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times.
For his path-breaking choreography for Walt Disney’s The Lion King, Fagan was awarded the prestigious 1998 Tony Award for Best Choreography. He also received the 1998 Drama Desk Award, 1998 Outer Critics Circle Award, 1998 Astaire Award, 2000 Laurence Olivier Award, 2001 Ovation Award, and the 2004 Helpmann Award for his work on the Broadway musical, which opened in fall 1997 to extraordinary critical praise. Fagan’s distinguished work in the theatre also includes 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, (1988), set in Brazil and directed by A.J. Antoon.
In the world of concert dance, Fagan choreographs primarily for Garth Fagan Dance. His recent work, Mudan 175/39, was named by The New York Times as the third of the top six dance watching moments of 2009. Fagan has also produced commissions for a number of leading companies, including his first work en pointe, Footprints Dressed in Red, for the Dance Theatre of Harlem; a solo for Judith Jamison, Scene Seen for the debut of the Jamison Project; Jukebox for Alvin for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; and Never No Lament for the Jose Limon Company; and Ellington Elation, part of a triad of pieces commissioned by New York City Ballet in honor of Duke Ellington’s centenary and New York City Ballet’s 50th anniversary. Fagan began his career when he toured Latin America with Ivy Baxter and her national dance company from Jamaica. Baxter, and two other famed dance teachers from the Caribbean, Pearl Primus and Lavinia Williams, were major influences on Fagan. In New York City, Fagan studied with Martha Graham, Jose Limon, Mary Hinkson, and Alvin Ailey, who were all central to his development. Fagan was director of Detroit's All-City Dance Company, and principal soloist and choreographer for Detroit Contemporary Dance Company and Dance Theatre of Detroit.
Fagan’s Additional Honors and Distinctions
In October 2001, Mr. Fagan a native of Jamaica was presented with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander: a national honor bestowed upon him by the Jamaican government. In August 1998, he received that country’s Special Gold Musgrave Medal, for his “Contribution to the World of Dance and Dance Theater.” The evening before at Prime Minister P.J. Patterson’s Independence Gala, Mr. Fagan was presented with the Prime Minister’s Award, a plate bearing the signatures of all the Prime Ministers of Jamaica, acknowledging his achievements.
Fagan is a Chancellor’s Award-winning Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of the State University of New York, and he taught for over three decades at the State University of New York at Brockport. In the fall of 2003, Fagan received the George Eastman Medal from the University of Rochester for “outstanding achievement and dedicated service.” He holds honorary doctorates from the Juilliard School, the University of Rochester, Nazareth College of Rochester, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges. In 2001, he was the recipient of the Golden Plate Award and was inducted into the American Academy of Achievement. In 1996, he was one of only twenty-five American scholars, artists, professionals and public figures to receive the title Fulbright 50th Anniversary Distinguished Fellow.
Fagan also received the 2001 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award, “established to honor those great choreographers who have dedicated their lives and talent to the creation of our modern dance heritage.” He is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the prestigious three-year Choreography Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In recognition of his contribution to modern dance, Fagan has received the Dance Magazine Award for "significant contributions to dance during a distinguished career" and the "Bessie" Award (New York Dance and Performance Award) for Sustained Achievement. Other awards include the Monarch Award from the National Council for Culture and Art, the Lillian Fairchild Award, and the Arts Achievement Award from his alma mater, Wayne State University.
In 2012, Fagan was added to the list of Irreplaceable Dance Treasures by the Dance Heritage Coalition. In order to be considered for this honor, you must have made a significant impact on dance as an art form, demonstrated artistic excellence, enriched the nation's cultural heritage, demostrated the potential to enhance the lives of future generations and shown himself worthy of national and international recognition.