Did You Know? | Who is Garth Fagan?

“Part of my joy, and my love in life, is moving to a positive place.” —Garth Fagan, in a TEDx Jamaica talk

by Heather Wisner

Photo courtesy Garth Fagan Dance

Garth Fagan’s blend of ballet and modern technique with African and Caribbean dance styles has won him millions of fans all over the world. Besides running his 48-year-old company, Garth Fagan Dance, he has created work for Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Limón Dance Company.

Inspired by the nice clothes and jet-setting lifestyle of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, Fagan studied with co-founder Ivy Baxter and began performing with the company at age 16.

Fagan is best known for his vibrant choreography for the Broadway musical The Lion King, which uses puppetry, elaborate costuming, and high-energy movement to bring an unforgettable animal kingdom to life.

“To come up with a new dance, I have to say, ‘What do I want to do?’ ” he said in a 1993 interview in the documentary series Dancing. “By new I don’t mean trendy or current, but rather new for me, something that I have not solved before or tried to solve before.”

1940 BORN in Kingston, Jamaica

1956 BEGINS dancing with the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica

1960 EMIGRATES to the United States

1969–2002 TEACHES dance at SUNY Brockport Department of Dance faculty

1970 FOUNDS Bottom of the Bucket BUT . . . Dance Theatre (renamed Garth Fagan Dance in 1990)

1997 OPENING of The Lion King, with his choreography, on Broadway; the show wins multiple awards, including the 1998 Tony Award for Best Choreography

2000 RECEIVES Laurence Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreographer

2007 RECEIVES honorary doctorate of fine arts from SUNY Brockport

2012 ADDED to the Dance Heritage Coalition’s list of Irreplaceable Dance Treasures


DSL managing editor Heather Wisner is a former associate editor at Dance Magazine. She has written about dance for SF Weekly, Willamette Week, The Oregonian, and Portland Monthly, among other publications.