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Fred Benjamin

Performer, Choreographer
( b. Sep 08, 1944 Boston, Massachusetts, USA - d. Dec 14, 2013 New York, New York, USA ) Male

Fred Benjamin was an internationally known teacher of jazz dance who was also part of the creative wave of young black modern-dance choreographers who came to prominence in the 1970s. As a choreographer for his own troupe and other companies, Mr. Benjamin specialized in the form of modern dance known as jazz dance. But unlike most others in the genre, he integrated ballet technique into a highly propulsive style.

At the same time, he was often concerned with the black heritage, an influence he derived from the modern-dance pioneer Talley Beatty, in whose company he danced from 1963 to 1966.

In 1976, Mr. Benjamin choreographed "Travels Just Outside the House," based on his own experience in an emergency room after he was stabbed six times by thieves in his apartment building. He told The New York Times that the dance was inspired by the sensation of "being given sedatives as I was being put to sleep."

Frederick Charles Benjamin was born in Boston and began studying dance there at age 4 at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in the Roxbury neighborhood. When the MacArthur Foundation initiated its so-called genius grants, Ms. Lewis was among the first recipients, singled out as one of the foremost dance educators in a black community. When Mr. Benjamin moved to New York in 1962, she financed his ballet lessons.

She also introduced him to Mr. Beatty, who became another important mentor and to whom he paid tribute in his choreography. After leaving the Talley Beatty Dance Company, Mr. Benjamin performed with the June Taylor Dancers and on Broadway in Hello, Dolly! and Promises, Promises. He formed the Fred Benjamin Dance Company in 1968.

Throughout his career, Mr. Benjamin remained associated with black dance programs. His company was a mainstay of the Harlem Cultural Council's Dancemobile: the dancers performed on flatbed trucks in various neighborhoods.

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.

Source: The New York Times obituary

ProductionsDate of Productions
[Musical, Original]
  • Choreographed by Fred Benjamin
Jan 12, 1971 - Jan 13, 1971
Hello, Dolly!
[Musical, Comedy, Original]
  • Performer: Fred Benjamin
        Ensemble - Replacement
Jan 16, 1964 - Dec 27, 1970
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