Transcript: Need to Know Rochester for January 1, 2010

(Julie) Coming up on this special edition of Need to Know, it's 2010 and Garth Fagan dance is celebrating its 40th season later this year. WXXI's Brenda Tremblay talks to the internationally renowned choreographer about how his artistic ability has evolved over time, his musical influences and inspiration and the future as the modern dance troop known as Rochester's leading cultural export. 


(Announcer) Rochester's News Magazine since 1997. This is Need to Know.



(Julie) Thanks for joining me. I'm Julie Phillipp and this is a special edition of Need To Know. WXXI's Brenda Tremblay recently sat down with internationally renowned choreographer Garth Fagan, whose hometown is right here in Rochester. The occasion: his modern dance troop was performing their latest work at Nazareth College's Performing Arts Center. But their discussions spun a few turns and they ended up talking about everything from getting the kids up off the couch to pop singer, Lady Gaga.


(Brenda) Garth, thank you so much for making time for us.


(Garth) Thanks for having me here. It's just wonderful.


(Brenda) Congratulations on your outstanding reviews the New York Times and the Financial Times in New York. Are you glad to be home?


(Garth) I'm glad to be home and whenever I think about the problems and come back and read the reviews then that will bump me up for a short while. Because we've gotten great reviews. The reviews we got in Austria when we went to Europe this year, I couldn't have written them myself. She says it's a must see show! So that part has been going just well and my beautiful dancers of course.


(Brenda) Well, in the New York Times, Roslyn Sulcas wrote that your new dance that you're going to be premiering here in Rochester, Mudan 171-39 is quite possibly one of the finest works you've created and it remains etched clearly in the mind. How did you go about constructing that new dance?

(Garth) That's a big complement from Roslyn. Cause she's tough. It started with the music. The music, played by the Ying Quartet, Rochester's own Ying Quartet, Internationally famous, but resident here at the Eastman Theater. I got this CD from them called Dim Some. You know those are delicious little Chinese delicacies. They have the most wonderful pieces of music by Chinese-American composers. I heard it, fell in love with it and said this is what we're going to do together as collaboration. The music was so rich because it has an ancient ancient melodies from Chinese music played with a European string quartet. You know first violin, second violin, viola and cello. You'd think it was a full orchestra when you heard the music. When they came to us to rehearse in the studio, I said "let me see where you're hiding the drums." Because the cello was, bum bum bum and I said oh my God. Anyway, I loved the music so that was a nice place to start. I've been to China three times. Their national flower was the Mu Dan, which is a tree peony, which was so fragrant with colors I had never seen before. It starts off as a bulb, then it opens to this wonderful shape, then it really blossoms and then the blossoms start dropping. So it's a very complex thing, but always beautiful and when not beautiful, extremely interesting. And I said, that's what I want to do with this dance. They have since changed their national flower. They changed it sometime in the last century. Oh my God, it's been a century. I am a person of the 20th century now in the 21st. Anyway, that was the reason and inspiration for doing the piece and it's constantly changing. There's wonderful movement in it. My rehearsal director assistant Norwood Penny well, he was teaching this wonderful combination in class and everybody had it under their belt and I said, "We’ll use that in Mu Dan." It was just beautiful, beautiful. It has a range of human relationships. The first section is called nowhere. And that's what we do everyday. We have to go to work, we have to mow the lawn, we have to take the kids to school, those things that you have to do, but you're not exactly inspired to do them. So that's a lot of repetitive movement. Then you start seeing two couple emerging out of that doing more romantic things. You see three different wonderful lifts in it. And then we go to the second section, my favorite section. No, before that section we have Gary. He has a solo called here. He does some of the fastest turns on the concert stage today. Just a beautiful dancer and a beautiful young man. And it's a gift and besides being a gift to us as an audience it says here. This is what you can do, should do, ought to be doing, you know a challenge. Then we go to the third section, which is called Now Here. And in Dao philosophy they change the words around to make different meanings. Now here is for six dancers and we have them interlocking in the most interesting ways. Somebody said it was a human kaleidoscope. I said, wow, that's beautiful. Because you lose faces, heads, arms, legs, but then they come back together. So you're always seeing people and it keeps you working and the costumes are bright and colorful. Out of that comes a wonderful duet for Norwood Penny well, my best award winner and Lindsey Benton, one of the younger dancers. It's a very mature duet. It's a duet of someone in their 50s or 60s. Now, I don’t' know anything about that age at all, but I thought I would put something on the stage about that age, being still 39. But, it's mature where you've seen it all, you've traveled all the places, your kids are away at college, you have the house all to yourself and you can just chill and really take your time away. And Mayor Hinkston, my teacher from the Graham company and my mentor and my priestess, she came. She said it was one of the most beautiful duets she had ever seen. She has lived that life because her husband was a doctor and he took exquisite care of her through the years while she danced. She knew of what that was. Then we go to the last section which is called now. There we have Kalama and Lynette Rochelle doing a young wild teenage duet. First love, everything is possible, oh wow. Look mommy, look grandpa. You know, I'm so happy. That kind of thing and then we go to one of our newest dancers and one of my stars and they do a wonderful 30 something duet. It's just gorgeous. You know a little bit more than when you were young and wild when someone was paying the bills, now you have to pay some of the bills, mortgage, what have you and take care of the kids. Finally we have the last section where they have some of the most difficult movement to do. And it ends and we got standing ovations and audiences just loved it New York and I'm sure audiences in Rochester are going to like it just as much and I hope so.

(Brenda) And you're going to be performing another dance at Nazareth as well. Landscape for 10. Tell us a little bit about the social commentary in that dance.


(Garth) Well, landscape for 10 is a revival this year because I did Landscape for 10 I think in '85 '86 or '87. I'm never sure, but someplace around there. It's called landscape for 10, but it has 11 people in it. My point of view is that in every society there is one or two people that are ostracized because they're not tall enough, they're too short, they've got red hair, they've got brown eyes, whatever. Human beings, we have got to find something to fuss about. It's to the Brahma’s Violin Concerto performed by Sophuie Mooder. And it looks at human beings as a landscape. You have heterosexual couples of the same race, you have interracial heterosexual couples, you have homosexual couples, female lesbians, male gay guys. And I get a treat out of the homosexual couples that we have. Inter-racial homosexual couple. So the bigots in the audience, they're going to have a hard time deciding that they hate the fact that they're gay more or that they are inter-racial.  They'll get over it. The whole point of it is that everybody can dance in harmony, in beauty, in peace. And it's not that you have to change your lifestyle to suit anyone else. You do what works for you. If you want to be heterosexual same race, please go ahead. You want inter-racial, go ahead. You want to be gay, go ahead. You want to be bi, go ahead, but allow other people to be. Then we will come to work in a happy mood because we're building our relationships. You do not have to change. That's why I don't understand why people are against things other than what they are. You have a right to like what you like and do what you like absolutely. But allow other human beings to do what is right for them. You do not have to change. That is what I do not understand why people are so against things for other then what they are. You have a right to like what you like and do what you like. Absolutely. But allow others to figure out what works for them and that is what dance is all about. It's beautiful.


(Brenda) Well you just returned from New York. How did audiences respond to your dances in New York City?


(Garth) They loved them. We were very proud of the audiences. We had about, I think, 80 percent of the houses were sold out. My Executive Director will kill me. Maybe 90 percent were sold out. And they just cheered widely and stood up and stomped. Landscape was a big hit. Obviously in a big metropolis in the world and the most important city for my taste. They understand these things and they see them around everyday and they live them. And then the Broms is such an unusual to put a contemporize spin to that wonderful type of music. You know but Broms is one of my favorite classical composers. Broms use to play in a brothel to make money. You know nothing has changed. The same way artist today have to be waiters and what have you. So he was a very well rounded warm human being. I hope where ever he is, that he is smiling when he sees this piece. He may not like the fact that we interpreted it to do two stereotypical laughs. You know the women haling high and the men low. Like hhohoh. You know stereotype. You know it surrounds us all and we have to fight like hell to get beyond them.


(Brenda) Where do you go for inspiration other then classical music? What feeds your energy, your imagination?


(Garth)  Every place. Thanks to some tough, difficult, wonderful parenting. Now I know it was wonderful. When I was growing up it was just tough and impossible. They would drag me to lunch hour concerts to hear great classical musicians. You know. Horowitz, Marian Anderson, I mean I heard them all as a kid. The bribe was that if I went and behaved myself, but I was a bad child. Now that I am a Great Grandfather I know that I was a bad child. Half the time I thought, oh it's just me why are they so square. Anyway now I know that facts. But they would take me to these lunch hour concerts and I would have to sit still and quite and they would get me a hamburger and a malted milk afterwards. At the time there was this place in Jamaica and their malted milks were just exciting. So I would behave. But pretty soon I started paying attention to my parents and when Horowitz was playing I would see tears coming down both of their faces and to me it was a piano going, plunk, plunk, plunk. But if it meant so much to them, they both loved music and they both played the piano and organ and sang beautifully and I cannot sing happy birthday at all which is why I went into dancing. I said this has to mean something. One of the big joys of my life is when we were playing in Amsterdam, Garth Fagan Dance, at the big auditorium they have there. And on the way from the airport we saw Horowitz. The Sunday that we were going to be there, sold out and I just died. What happened was the same guy that was producing us was the same guy that was producing Horowitz. I said I got to see him. He was my parents favorite and I now know how good he is. Back then I didn't and I just got to see him. And he said how many tickets do you want? I said can I possibly have six because I had five senior dancers that I wanted to experience this with me. He said I doubt it. I know I can get two for you but he got six and we sat on the stage with Horowitz. If you want to see a grown man cry that is what it was. Now that I have grown up I understand what they were hearing and how beautiful it was and is and how wonderful that man was and is. He is dead now, but his music will live on forever. So they taught me about a wide range of music. Metal, Jazz, Jazz was always in there you know. Bass was always a big argument between the two of them. I was with my dad on Ellington and my mom was a bass lady. So I blessed them for exposing me to this wide range of music. So I listen to all types of music. You know and the youngsters now a days they bring me stuff that I wouldn't normally hear about. I had never heard about Lady GaGa. And they brought Lady GaGa and I love her. She is mad as a hatter but she can sing notes. Which a lot of people cannot do today. A lot of people sing everything in the same note the same key.  So she can actually sing. Her costumes are a tad excessive. But you know it sells tickets so why not. And their fun and inventive. They keep me oppressed and someone says you got to check this out. And you know it is something I didn't hear. It is their time and their taste. And I need to keep oppressed with that and I love that.


(Brenda) Since you started your career as a choreographer and a dancer how has your artistry changed how has your sensibility changed?


(Garth) It has gotten much more sophisticated. I take more risk as the dance consumes me drives me. Demands that I do certain things demands that I don't do certain things. And now I know how to listen to the muses is what my predecessors would have called it and they are real. I don't see them physically but they consume you when you are doping a piece. And you’re just focused on what ever the piece is and this is what I need to say. And this should be moved down that can not be moved down. Why not try that it is impossible but why not.


(Brenda) How do you listen to the muse?


Garth) Oh concentration and for me and I am sure it is different for every artist but it comes from a place of solitude. I don't the phone has got to be turned off; I don't want to talk to nobody. You know I just want to stay in that area that I am working on right now. Within that dance I can not allow anything to come in because the music is very fickle and it could evaporate the whole piece before you’re finished with it. So you have to come back and work work work. Moving invention is what I am known for. So you got to come up with new moves. Really moves I can no longer do. I have no Pedal Well, Natalie Rogers Nikki Depase. You know dancers that I trust and that know me. And I try everything to get it as I did it or as I want it done. And not just do the same old same old and come up with nothing.  That's not what I am, what the dances are all about. My dances seldom have stories to them. There are more impressionistic work. They suggest relationship very clear strong relationships. The suggest very clear attitudes and point of views. You might like this guy you might not like that one. You might adore this one lady you might think fine alright. Its not boy meets girl gets married moves on the hill. Gets a puppies and a parakeet. Its not linear it’s not linear like that. This is a trend for a century and this is the world we are living in. And we are not gaping to talk about the electric drama we are going through. One of the things we have to explain to them is that you can get rid of someone with the click of a button or you can solve a problem with a press of a button. In real life it is not like that. And if they figure it out intellectually they can do it and that is one of the beauties of dance. Either you can do it or you can't. You can not dream it and go out their and do it. You have to work in the studio and we have lost a lot of physical activity for kids because the schools are not pushing PT as much as they used too. You don't see kids playing ball in the backyard or catch or whatever. It is this. And we have to celebrate the joys that electronic media has given us. The computer and the cell phones and all of that it is good. You got to find a balance between that family and community relationships. And turn off the DVD and look at the trees and look at the horses as your driving down the road as opposed to doing the same things you were doing at home on a trip. Look out the window and see if it does anything to you and open your spirit up to that. So we got to try to keep that going. 


B: Let me ask you, it's been a rough year for Garth Fagan dance financially . . .


G: Yes.


B: In May, you were about 500-thousand dollars in the hole.


G: Yes.  Yeah.


B: What-How are things looking now as you're approaching the end of this year?


G: Um, well, we don't know yet, because the fundraising for the end of the year, um, isn't in yet, but Michael Kaiser, the head of the Kennedy Center and the guy who put "Covent Garden" out, and "Ellie."  Um, American Ballet Theatre.  He got them out of the hole.  He came and spoke to myself, my staff, my board.  And gave us wonderful inspiration, and made some wonderful contacts for us.  So, um, we're probably about three-three-hundred thousand in the . . . and I'm one of the large contributors to the Covent, that is my life, you know.  But I need help.  But I thought that after year 20 things were going to get fine.  Well, because of the recession we're in, people are not booking shows like they used to because audiences don't have money to go to shows, like they used to.  They have to buy food and gas and, you know, everyday things, and Pampers.  Um, so all the attendance across the nation is down, even in sports, but we need help; and we're audited and whatever.  And, um, nobody makes money at Garth Fagan Dance, we'd love to pay the dancers more, what have you, but the bookings are down, so we'll see what happens. 


B: I'm sure it's affecting groups all over the country. 


G: All over the country, everywhere.


B: And you received 50-thousand dollars in Federal stimulus money as well?


G: Yes.  Yes, yes, yes.  And what that's, yeah, it's wonderful, but we need a few more zeroes bad, and I'm not complaining.  I'm just talking about the reality of the situation. 


B: Have you thought about retiring?  Have you thought about the future?


G: No.  No, no, no, no, no.  I'm much too young to retire.  39-year-olds don't retire, you know that.  No, um, this is a life's work, but I'm going to get some help from PJ next year, Nor Penne well, because he's going to choreograph a piece for us next year, so that will be the first choreography I have in the company, other than mine, you know.  Um, so I'm looking forward to that.  But no.  Merce Cunningham, one of my mentors and a guy who came to see us at the Joy several times, and had a bad hip, and he'd go down those stairs to come to the dressing room and talk to all the dancers, he died at 91.  And he was still choreographing, and performed until he was 80, and I'm not going to do that. 


B: Thank-you for coming in. 


G: Thanks a lot, Brenda. 


J: And that's choreographers Garth Fagan.  This year, his internationally renowned dancing troupe will celebrate its 40th season.  Fagan was interviewed by WXXI's Brenda Tremble.  You can hear Brenda every weekday morning, on our sister classical music station WXXI-FM.  You can also find her blogs on WXXI dot org.  She frequently blogs about the many interesting interviews she does with artists of all sorts.  I'm Julie Philips, thanks for watching this special edition of Need To Know, and Happy New Year from all of us her at WXXI Public Broadcasting. 


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