Fred Benjamin — Celebration of Life (Great Turnout — See Event Photos)

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Fred Benjamin

(9/8/1944 — 12/14/2013)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

WINE TOAST CELEBRATION!

Celebration Event Photos Provided Courtesy of Mansa K. Mussa

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A Tribute to Master Choreographer and Dance Instructor Fred Benjamin

His devoted students are now teaching his passionate style all over the world. The uniqueness of the work can be identified by the slow, intense turn of a head; rolling of the hips: double and triple contractions, moving backwards on himself and his unique counting style, which causes the impulses of all of his choreography to be counted mostly on odd numbers.

Frederick Charles Benjamin was an international dance teacher and choreographer born on September 8, 1944. Educated in Boston’s public schools, Fred spent a number of summers as a student in the Adele Thane’s Children’s Theater. He received his early dance training starting at age four at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in the Roxbury neighborhood and graduated from English High School in 1962. He came to New York to continue his dance studies under scholarship at the American Ballet Theater School. When Mr. Benjamin graduated high school and moved to New York in 1962, Elma Lewis financed his ballet lessons. She also introduced him to Talley Beatty, a featured dancer in the Katherine Dunham troupe who became another important mentor to whom he frequently paid tribute in his original choreography.

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After spending some time as a dance soloist with the Talley Beatty Dance Company, Mr. Benjamin’s first theater job was in the off-Broadway show, “We’re Civilized?”, featuring Karen Black. He performed for three seasons at the Jones Beach Marine Theater, where he did Mardi Gras, choreographed by the renowned television choreographer, June Taylor.

Fred went on to work with Gower Champion and Michael Bennett, appearing on Broadway in Hello Dolly with Pearl Bailey and in the Broadway company of Promises, Promises. He was also invited by Alvin Ailey to be the featured guest dance artist on the celebrated CBS special, Ailey Salutes Ellington with Gladys Knight.

He formed the Fred Benjamin Dance Company in 1968.

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Fred choreographed numerous ballets for his company and has been commissioned to choreograph and re-stage his ballets for many other dance companies, including the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, Philadanco, Nanette Bearden’s Contemporary Chamber Dance Group, Forces of Nature Dance Company, Gallman’s Newark Dance Theater, Impulse Dance Theater and Alpha Omega Theater Dance Company. Theatrically, he choreographed the workshop productions of Bubblin’ Brown Sugar and It’s So Nice to be Civilized, both for the Amas Repertory Theater. Also among his choreographic credits is the rock opera Soon, which featured Peter Allen, Nell Carter and Richard Gere.

His early nightclub performing experience with Larry Steel’s Smart Affairs has helped in the staging and direction of Feathers and Fantasy, a popular Latin nightclub revue and nightclub acts for Gloria Gaynor, Ernestine Jackson, Cheryl Lynn and Winston DeWitt Hemsley.

Like many young black choreographers emerging in the 1960s and 1970s, he found a nurturing environment at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan. Although open to all, its classes and performances at the West Side Y.W.C.A. were organized by Alvin Ailey and others in 1959 to foster opportunities for black dancers and choreographers. Mr. Benjamin remained associated with the center as a teacher and performer until it closed in the 1980s.

Mr. Benjamin was the founder of the Fred Benjamin Dance Center and also founded the Fred Benjamin Dance Company. He also taught at Clark Center for the Performing Arts, Steps, Ballet Arts, Alvin Ailey American Dance Center and as a international guest artist performing and choreographing works in France, Norway, Germany, Brazil, Amsterdam, Belgium, Finland, Spain and Japan.

He was also chairman of the jazz dance department and faculty adviser at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in the 1990s.

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Mr. Benjamin’s ballets are also featured in the repertories of the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, Philadanco, Gallman’s Newark Dance Theater, Nannette Bearden’s Contemporary Chamber Dance Group, Boston’s Impulse Dance Company, Dimensions Dance Theater of California, Tokyo’s Watanabe Dance Company, Jazz Extensions of Holland and the Joyce Ballet of Brazil.  Mr. Benjamin was the head of the jazz dance department at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center.

Fred Benjamin was always identified by critics as a “jazz dancer”, however, in order to successfully do his work, a dancer had to have a complete knowledge of ballet and modern technique. His movement required unusual stamina and concentration as his choreography emotionally flowed from concept to movement. His ballets were all about passion and the hot and cold nature of sexuality and relationships.

Fred was a serious task master and demanded and then commanded the respect of the dance community. Always considered to be somewhat of a rebel, he abandoned his own successful Broadway dance career in order to give birth to his own company and the work that he loved. Fred became a well respected international dance teacher and choreographer with frequent residencies.

His class work was always challenging and thought provoking, challenging the dancer to continually explore their own emotional presentation and their expression of sexuality. He encouraged his dancers to study and specifically expand their knowledge of ballet and Graham technique, as it was the basis for his choreographic work.

The group movement in his signature, modern ballet “Parallel Lines”, the emphasis on entrances in a work such as “Our Thing” and many other works all echoed Beatty’s influence. Benjamin added more contemporary ballet to Beatty’s modern, energized style and helped popularize the genre known internationally as “ballet-jazz”.

His musical tastes ranged from modern pop music to jazz and the classical. A keen observer of human condition, he would often claim that his unique choreography would be inspired from his own dreams and his experiences as a young dancer.

Mr. Benjamin’s dance company repertory includes not only his own unique chorography but also the creative offerings of master choreographers Talley Beatty, Lynn Taylor-Corbett and Winston DeWitt Hemsley.

Fred Benjamin Dance Company members included Fred Benjamin, Carl Bailey, Marilyn Banks, Thea Nerissa Barnes, Cheryl Bell, Milton Bowser (Abdel Salaam), Brenda Braxton, Lisa Dawn Cave, Dianne Conaway, Ralph Farrington (Ralf Paul Haze), Gina Ellis, Adrienne Frimet, Carl Fields, Alfred Gallman, Gregory Hinton, Donald Griffiths, Stanley Harrison (Harrison Lee), Chiquita Ross, Dyane Harvey-Salaam, Bruce Hawkins, Cheryl Norvell, Arlena Rolant, Winston De Witt Hemsley, Christopher Huggins, Linda James, Marlon Lewis, Terrin Miles, J. Jamal Hardeman, Charles “Malik” Lewis, Milton Myers, Charles Wynn, Clayton Palmer, Damon Pearce, Mark Rubin, Cheryl Scott, Glen Alan Sims, Pamela Jones, Aisha Coley, Warren Spears, Loretta Abbott, Al Perryman, Hope Clark, Kathy Thomas, Andy Torres, Juanita “Grace” Tyler, Kay Uchishiba, Freda Vanterpool, Jorge Vasquez, Lisa Larsen, Dina Wright, Leni Wylliams, Amy Ragsdale, Lindsay Krouse, Amparo Chigui Santiago, Rosa Curry, Gary Flannery, Rovan Hill, Sharon Brooks, Cheryl Brooks, Kim Jones, Ben Harney, Juan Henderson, Mercie Hinton, Carolyn Campbell, Michelle Simmons, Shirley Black-Brown, Glen Brooks, George Faison, Michael Peters, Alan Weeks, Bryant Baker, Henny Kammerman, Ronald McKay, Tracy Cloyd, Chet Tames, LaVerne Washington, Judy Dearing, Pat Estwick Heaven, Renee Rose, Reginald Jackson, Lonnie McNeill, Michelle Murray, Thomas Oakman, Shirin Stave, Cherylynn Ross, Brian “Bomani” Benns, Michael Sampson, A. Michael Vermy, John Young, Israel Valle, Gregory Wright, Edmeee Cherdieu, Fred Laserre, Dana Foglia, Catherine Foster, Any Henry, Gwynenn Jones, Wendy Mejia, Tyrone Monroe, Terrence Popular, Jason Mulloy, Eddie Stockton, Christian Von Howard, Matthew Williams, Tetsuo Yoshida and Karen Geneva Burke (Geneva Vivino)

Fred Benjamin Dance Center Faculty included Karen Burke, Terrin Miles, Donald Griffiths, Adrienne Frimet and Bruce Hawkins.

Fred Benjamin Dance Company Stage Managers included Karen DeFrancis, Sandra Ross, Marvin Watkins, Melody Beals, Richard Gant and Steve Jones.

Fred Benjamin Dance Company Wardrobe was designed and maintained by Bernard Johnson, Tubby Winston, Olon Godare, Purnett Roberts, Drag N’ Things, Blythe Columbo, Joyce “Chickie” Byers and Sixto Delgado.

Mr. Benjamin’s Dance Assistants and Rehearsal Directors included Karen Burke, Terrin Miles, Bruce Hawkins, Gina Ellis, Charles “Malik” Lewis and Seiko Fujita.

Fred Benjamin’s choreography has been danced worldwide and is still in the repertories and archives of several popular dance companies. The company repertory included Magic Journey (1977), Metamorphosis (1977), Ember (1971), Pretty Is Skin Deep, Ugly Is To the Bone (1976), Echoes Of An Era (1978), Merry Christmas, Anna (1978), Come Into My Life (1977), Icefire (1982), 902 Albany Street (1969), Our Thing (1970), Prey (1972), Parallel Lines (1971), One In Doubt (1983), Ceremony (1974), Cauldron (1984), Illuminations (1985), From the Mountain of the Moon (1975), Dealing With the Facts and the Pain, Mountain High (1971), Cauldron (1984), Break-Out (1979), Crossroads (1978), Feeling Old Feelings (1979)  

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Source: © Bruce Hawkins, 2014

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