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Mudan 175/39 – Garth Fagan

November 12, 2009

Garth Fagan’s dances are known for being layered in meaning and involving many ideas. The title of the piece, Mudan, is the Chinese name for a peony, the music is written and performed by Chinese artists and the numbers ‘175/39’ refer to Chinese numeration. But something not so noticeable, as it didn’t enter the dance until the second half, was a dancer that seemed strangely familiar.

Credit: Paula Hamada Summit

Credit: Paula Hamada Summit

After searching my mind during the dance, I referred to the playbill and scanned to a name that stood out: Vitolio Jeune. My suspicions were confirmed when I finally read the line: “Mr. Jeune is a graduate of the New World School of the Arts and recently finished as a top 14 contestant in season five of FOX’s ‘So You Think You Can Dance.'”

Here I was watching a dance steeped in Chinese cultural references with complex modern movement and rhythms while one of the performers was a dancer I had watched bring an audience to screams of praise with his jazz routine and into tears as he was cut by a panel of judges in the heart of Los Angeles.


I watched Season 5 of the poorly named and often abbreviated SYTYCD show. To some, this show is an amazing display of the nation’s talented dancers. It is bringing a sometimes rarely seen art form into the family rooms of America’s households and the hearts of America’s dreaming and inspired youth. But to others, it is presenting the sometimes sacred art of dance in a commercialized and damaging way. It is taking the already ambiguous ‘contemporary’ label and pushing it to a perceived less meaningful, inauthentic, entertainment-driven expression. I personally very much enjoyed the dancing and made sure to fast forward through the judging process.

Mudan 175/39 - Garth Fagan

Mathieu Young/FOX

I remember when Alex Wong tried to audition for the show but wasn’t able to get out of his Miami City Ballet contract. Many of the ballet dancers I was around at the time couldn’t understand why anyone would want to jeopardize their career by ‘selling out’ and becoming a national dance celebrity. It seemed that once you showed face on a national reality TV show, it would be difficult for anyone to take you seriously and hire you into their dance company. How would the celebrity status effect your position in their dance company? If you had a following, how would the audiences react to the dancing in a very different environment? One episode in the 4th season of SYTYCD featured guests Aubrey Morgan and Eddy Tovar of LA Ballet performing a pas de deux from George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” The audience cheered at every extension and turned a very beautiful ballet into a series of tricks.

This fear, it seems, is unfounded. Little was said about Vitolio or SYTYCD and most of the aging audience probably didn’t even realize the show existed or Vitolio’s participation in it. Very often celebrity status from a reality show is fleeting and Viotlio certainly wasn’t hired without his technique, performance ability and I’m sure his Afro-Caribbean background didn’t hurt either. Even though his facebook page still clings tightly to SYTYCD, promoting his ‘contemporary’ and hip-hop classes, and there is no mention of his involvement or performance with Garth Fagan, there seems to be a separation between his public reality show image and his more private modern dance involvements. His twitter, advertised in his facebook page, does include a few tweets about his performance and reviews at Joyce Theater.

Did you notice Vitolio before or during his performance?

How do you feel about SYTYCD and it’s place in the world of dance?

What do you think about the transition from SYTYCD into other areas of dance?

Should I audition for SYTYCD to get my foot in the dance door?

November 1st, 2009, 7:30pm
Joyce Theater
New York City, New York

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Paula Summit permalink
    March 5, 2010 5:13 pm

    The Garth Fagan Dance photo at the top is my photograph. Please add the photo credit, Paula Hamada Summit.
    Thank you.

    • March 5, 2010 5:21 pm

      Thank you for allowing me to use your photo. I try my best to credit where I can.

    • March 12, 2010 10:33 pm

      Also, do you have any thoughts on the performance or rehearsal you took this picture of?

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