Garth Fagan, whose internationally acclaimed dance company is celebrating its 53rd anniversary, is stepping down from leadership of the company.
Fagan this week made the announcement to the board of Garth Fagan Dance. He will continue to choreograph dances. His new title will be founder and distinguished artistic director emeritus of the company.
Fagan, now 83 years old, is best known as the Tony-winning dance choreographer of Broadway’s “The Lion King.” But his influence in dance was established long before Disney’s popular animated film was translated into an even more popular musical, one that has run on Broadway for more than a quarter-century.
The Jamaican-born Fagan interspersed popular dance with Afro-Caribbean rhythms and, as The New York Times wrote last year, cultivated “a legacy of Black dance and a generation of dynamic performers.”
Fagan’s impact on the dance world is of such consequence that this year the Library of Congress acquired more than three decades of film, photos and performance memorabilia representing his storied career and the lessons he imparted to hundreds of students. The archive joined the likes of similar Library of Congress collections from acclaimed choreographers Bob Fosse, Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey.
This year Fagan was also honored by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Fagan and his dance studio have called Rochester home since 1970.
Fagan has “hand-picked his successors,” according to a news release: Natalie Rogers-Cropper, a longtime principal dancer, will be executive director and school director. Norwood “PJ” Pennewell, longtime principal dancer and choreographer, will be artistic director.
“I am so proud, so happy, so honored to have these two talented people that I have known, worked with, laughed with, cried with, celebrated with for … decades … to now be taking my legacy, my artistry, my dance, my heart, forward into tomorrow,” Fagan said in the news release. “I am grateful beyond measure.”
Fagan is so interwoven with the Rochester region’s artistic history that, when NPR’s popular comedic show “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” came to town in 2017 it chose Fagan as its local onstage guest.
There, Fagan demonstrated he also has chops for humor. Asked whether it was true that his father did not want him to pursue dance as a career, Fagan answered: “He’s a Oxford man, Oxford graduate. But he wanted me to be a doctor like him. And, you know, something more respectable than dancing.
“But I have 11 or 12 honorary doctorates. So, Daddy, I’m doctor, doctor, doctor, doctor.”
Fagan does in fact have an expansive list of honors. Along with the 1998 Tony Award it includes the 2000 Laurence Olivier Award (London, UK) and the 2004 Helpmann Award (Australia) for best choreography in a musical as well as the Drama Desk Award, the Astaire Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for his work in “The Lion King.”
He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, where he received the Prime Minister’s Award, a Special Gold Musgrave Medal for his “Contribution to the World of Dance and Dance Theater” and in 2001 he received the Order of Distinction in the rank of commander.