Critics have called Garth Fagan “a true original,” “a genuine leader,” and “one of the great reformers of modern dance.” Fagan is the founder and artistic director of the award-winning and internationally acclaimed Garth Fagan Dance, now celebrating its 47th season. An “Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” Tony and Olivier Award winner, Fagan continually renews his own distinctive dance vocabulary, which draws on many sources: a sense of weight in modern dance, torso-centered movement and energy of Afro-Caribbean, the speed and precision of ballet, and the rule breaking experimentation of the postmoderns. “Originality has always been Mr. Fagan’s strong suit, not least in his transformation of recognizable idioms into a dance language that looks not only fresh but even idiosyncratic,” writes Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times.
For his path-breaking choreography for Walt Disney’s The Lion King, Fagan was awarded the prestigious 1998 Tony Award for Best Choreography. He also received the 1998 Drama Desk Award, 1998 Outer Critics Circle Award, 1998 Astaire Award, 2000 Laurence Olivier Award, 2001 Ovation Award, and the 2004 Helpmann Award for his work on the Broadway musical, which opened in fall 1997 to extraordinary critical praise. Fagan’s distinguished work in the theater also includes the first fully staged production of the Duke Ellington street opera, Queenie Pie, at the Kennedy Center in 1986 and the opening production of Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare Marathon: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1988), set in Brazil and directed by A.J. Antoon.
In the world of concert dance, Fagan choreographs primarily for Garth Fagan Dance. “An evening spent with Garth Fagan Dance is a humanity-affirming event” Victoria Looseleaf . His work, Mudan 175/39, was named by The New York Times as the third of the top six dance watching moments of 2009. The company continues to be cited for its excellence and originality ”Consider the Fagan program a prime example of the versatility and sophistication of concert dance in this new century.” The Los Angeles Times. Fagan has also produced commissions for a number of leading companies, including his first work on pointe, Footprints Dressed in Red, for Dance Theatre of Harlem; a solo for Judith Jamison, Scene Seen, for the debut of the Jamison Project; Jukebox for Alvin for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater;Never No Lament for the José Limon Company; and Ellington Elation, part of a triad of pieces commissioned by New York City Ballet in honor of Duke Ellington’s centenary and New York City Ballet’s 50th anniversary. In 2012 Lewis Segal wrote "...it was American master Garth Fagan who best fused technical virtuosity with conceptual depth... soul-deep conviction and spectacular flair….the indispensable dance experience of the year.”
Fagan began his career when he toured Latin America with Ivy Baxter and her national dance company from Jamaica. Baxter and two other famed dance teachers from the Caribbean, Pearl Primus and Lavinia Williams, were major influences on Fagan. In New York City, Fagan studied with Martha Graham, Jose Limon, Mary Hinkson, and Alvin Ailey, who were all central to his development. Fagan was director of Detroit’s All-City Dance Company and principal soloist and choreographer for Detroit Contemporary Dance Company and Dance Theatre of Detroit.
In October 2001, Fagan, a native of Jamaica, was presented with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander: a national honor bestowed upon him by the Jamaican government. In August 1998, he received that country’s Special Gold Musgrave Medal for his “Contribution to the World of Dance and Dance Theater” and at Prime Minister P.J. Patterson’s Independence Gala, Fagan was presented with the Prime Minister’s Award, a plate bearing the signatures of all the prime ministers of Jamaica, acknowledging his achievements.
In 2012 Garth Fagan was selected as an “Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” by The Dance Heritage Coalition, An irreplaceable dance treasure has made a significant impact on dance as an art form, demonstrated artistic excellence, enriched the nation's cultural heritage, demonstrated the potential to enhance the lives of future generations and shown itself worthy of national and international recognition. In 2011, the Institute of Caribbean Studies, which celebrates excellence in literature, science, technology, community service, and corporate leadership, presented Fagan with the Marcus Garvey Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2012, the University of Rochester and its Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies awarded The Frederick Douglass Medal to Fagan to acknowledge his scholarship and civic engagement that honor the Douglass' legacy. In Fall 2017, Garth received A Lifetime Achievement award from the American Dance Guild.
He is a Chancellor’s Award-winning Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of the State University of New York, and taught for over three decades at the State University of New York at Brockport. In the fall of 2003, Fagan received the George Eastman Medal from the University of Rochester for “outstanding achievement and dedicated service.” He holds honorary doctorates from the Juilliard School, the University of Rochester, Nazareth College of Rochester, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges. In 2001 he was the recipient of the Golden Plate Award and was inducted into the American Academy of Achievement. In 1996 he was named a Fulbright 50th Anniversary Distinguished Fellow. Fagan received the 2001 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a prestigious three-year choreography fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In recognition of his contribution to modern dance, Fagan has received the Dance Magazine Award for “significant contributions to dance during a distinguished career” and a Bessie Award for Sustained Achievement. Other awards include the Monarch Award from the National Council for Culture and Art, the Lillian Fairchild Award, and the Arts Achievement Award from his alma mater, Wayne State University.