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May 21, 2008 (Becket, Mass.) – The 2008 Jacob’s Pillow season officially launches Wednesday, June 18th with the unmatched choreographic prowess of Garth Fagan Dance in Griot New York.  With an original score by jazz legend Wynton Marsalis; sets by noted sculptor Martin Puryear; and Fagan’s unique choreography, a marriage of modern, ballet, Caribbean and African movement styles, this eight-part masterpiece is often cited as Fagan’s greatest work. Fagan, founder and artistic director of the company, is widely known for his 1998 Tony Award-winning choreography of Broadway’s The Lion King.


Griot New York will be presented in a six-performance run in the Ted Shawn Theatre, June 18 – 22. Members of the company and Garth Fagan himself will take part in free talks throughout the week including a Post-Show Talk following the evening performance on Thursday, June 19 and an hour-long PillowTalk film screening and discussion of Garth Fagan’s Oatka Trail at 4pm on Saturday, June 21. 


Griot New York is truly a masterwork, given to us by three very important artists of today,” comments Ella Baff, Jacob’s Pillow Executive Director. “Wynton Marsalis’ powerful score, Martin Puryear’s larger-than-life sets, and Garth Fagan’s singular movement style combine seamlessly to tell an eloquent story of humanity.  It is the perfect combination of visual art, music and dance and is a wonderful way to begin the Festival season.”


Garth Fagan Dance, founded in 1970 and based in Rochester, New York, is renowned for its distinctive dance language, developed by Jamaican-born Garth Fagan.  Dancers are extensively trained in the Fagan Technique, a signature movement and teaching style that draws on the sense of weight used in modern dance, the torso-centered movement and energy of the Afro-Caribbean style, the speed and precision of ballet, and the experimentation of post-modern artists. The company has been cited for its excellence and originality with a New York Governor's Arts Award and has five "Bessie" Award-winners (New York Performance Awards) in its ranks: Garth Fagan, Norwood Pennewell, Steve Humphrey, Natalie Rogers and Sharon Skepple.  Garth Fagan Dance has performed throughout the U.S. as well as in Europe, Asia, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, North and South America, New Zealand, Australia, and the West Indies


Griot New York had its world premiere in 1991 in the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. A collaboration by three visionaries, Fagan, Marsalis and Puryear, Griot New York explores contemporary urban life, human anguish and exaltation, and humankind’s triumph over adversity.  The term “griot” refers to honored West African storytellers, poets, or musicians who transmit the history of his/her people, interpreting events in terms of their deepest, most enduring values. Griot New York embodies this practice, crossing borders of time, geography, ethnicity, and style in a poetic and nonlinear manner.   Marsalis’s score, created specifically for this work, explores all aspects of jazz music, from the waltz to big band to calypso.  Set designer Puryear, known for his minimalism and use of media such as wood, tar, wire and stone, created six large-scale sculptures, including a larger-than-life hoe, a hanging jug and a stairway, which are used to set the tone for each section of the work.  As heralded by The New York Times, “[Fagan’s] choreography moves with urban bustle and pastoral lyricism toward a celebration of life…Mr. Marsalis’s commissioned jazz score, [is] superb in its evocative colors and original in its wit.”


Excerpts from Griot New York were performed on The Tonight Show hosted by Jay Leno and the work was broadcast in its entirety on PBS’ Great Performances – Dance in America series in 1995.  The work was performed at Jacob’s Pillow in 1992 and in recent years has been rarely performed in its entirety. It was last presented at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, July 10-12, 2006. Prior to that, it was seen in a one-night engagement at Jazz at Lincoln Center in November of 2005 and over the past five years, it has generally been presented in one-night-only engagements.


Jacob’s Pillow has a longstanding history of supporting the growth and success of Garth Fagan Dance.  The Pillow first presented the company in 1974, four years after Fagan founded it, under the name Bottom of The Bucket But…Dance Theatre. The company has since performed at the Pillow in 1985, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 2000, and 2005.  Fifty-five year old dancer and founding company member, Steve Humphrey, has performed with Garth Fagan Dance since 1970 and 2008 will mark his eleventh performance year at the Pillow.


The free PillowTalk film screening and discussion of
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