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Oatka Trail – Garth Fagan (1979)

November 29, 2009

The name for this dance comes from ‘an old Seneca Indian trail near Rochester, New York.” Although this may not be the actual Native American trail, a road now passes near Rochester, New York with the same name. It is possible to drive along this Oatka Trail or it’s alternative name, Co. Rd. 17, but this dance was created for the Oatka Trail that was visible long before it’s concrete burial.

Google Maps: Oatka Trail near Rochester, NY

There are three male dancers who perform this piece. Two are from the original company and one is an apprentice. They enter and exit the stage at intervals as well as taking the time to dance alone. They leap and bound at moments with their arms overhead. At the cusp of their jump, the heels of their hands come together yet don’t touch as if repelled by magnets. It is set to Antonin Dvorak’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B Minor, op. 104.
Part II:

The two older men dancing are Norwood Pennewell and Steve Humphrey.

Norwood is considered Garth Fagan’s ‘assistant and muse’ and has been with the company since 1978 and Steve, who has been with the company for 39 years, had this very role created for him when Oatka Trail was choreographed. This marks the 30th anniversary performance of the piece.

It is amazing to watch these men perform. Garth Fagan, for all his awards and recognitions is no longer necessarily on the cutting edge of dance. His performance did not include any projectors or multi-media computer generator decor. There weren’t any large props for the dancers to tackle and the lighting didn’t create any abrupt or intense scenes, all which are very popular in today’s ’emerging’ and even ‘established’ artists. And I would have a very difficult time trying to convey any of the dances I saw as ‘fierce.’ But what occurred on that stage came from a much deeper place than ‘fierce’ could have offered.

Norwood Pennewell and Steve Humphrey

It’s possible that the dances are dated, much like the dancers who are performing them. They have been performing this dance for over 30 years and the steps haven’t changed. But if there was nothing to take from the maturity of this old dance, than why is it performed by older dancers? Garth Fagan could have easily selected younger, intense, fierce dancers to take their place and told his long held dancers that it was time for them to move on as is done in many companies. The dance world seems to demand fresh meat. It tells you to start young and cross your fingers, hold your breath and hope that you aren’t too old and started too late. Instead, Garth keeps the men there. They are dancing a beautiful dance that has been in their bodies for years. It is clear from the second the dance begins that they are comfortable and happy to be performing this dance again, with an appreciation that a new dancer could never truly have. And just to make sure he is not clinging to the past, Garth puts in his apprentice. An upcoming dancer, not quite yet a full-fledged member of the company, who contrasts this deeper appreciation with all the things an audience loves about a young dancer. Only this time, it is not the only thing the audience will love.

How often does the age of a dancer affect how you experience a dance?

How long do you hope to keep dancing?

What is your favorite quality about a dancer who has had many more years of dance than others?

Who do you know that will most likely die in the middle of teaching a dance class before giving up dance?

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

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