Durham native to perform 'Mourner's Bench'

Oct. 17, 2013 @ 03:23 PM

Not many today can say they learned Talley Beatty’s 1947 solo “Mourner’s Bench” from Beatty himself. But Durham native Gregory Hinton can. Beatty not only taught it to Hinton but gave this dancer permission to perform it from then on, Hinton said in a recent phone interview. As guest artist with Gaspard&Dancers, Hinton will perform the solo Friday (Oct. 18) and Saturday (Oct. 19) at Reynolds Industries Theater.
Hinton, 63, first met Beatty in 1977 when, as a member of the New York-based Fred Benjamin Dance Company, Hinton performed in the choreographer’s “Pretty Is Skin Deep, But Ugly Is to the Bone.”
“Talley just embraced me. He just thought I was a very strong dancer. He became my mentor. We became friends,” Hinton said.
In 1984, Hinton found himself on a bench and learning Beatty’s solo from “Southern Landscape.” “He’s telling me where to look, coaching me about emotions,” Hinton recalled.
Beatty had been a demanding taskmaster. “Talley loved to curse. He gave you an impossible thing to do because he liked to challenge you,” Hinton said.
“Mourner’s Bench” provides some of those challenges.
“To promenade backwards on a 12-inch bench is difficult to do. Also, rising up on that bench in fourth position without using your hands …” the dancer said.
Also, the fact that the dancer’s spotlighted and the rest of the stage is dark makes it impossible to spot in order to prevent dizziness while turning, Hinton added.
For him, the emotional aspect has deepened over the years. At first, Hinton relied on the historical incident in the South after the Civil War, recounted in Howard Fast’s novel,  “Freedom Road,” that had been an inspiration for “Mourner’s Bench.” In it, members of the Ku Klux Klan slaughter members of a harmonious community of black and white farmers. As the solo begins, the “mourner” has just returned from finding the bodies.
“He’s traumatized. And, he fears he’s going to be next. He’s saddened. He’s devastated,” Hinton said.
This dancer’s ability to communicate emotion increased after people began asking him to perform it at memorials for dancers, he added.
In a 1990 New York Times review, Jennifer Dunning wrote, “Gregory Hinton’s performance was as powerful as the dance itself, his limbs curling and clinging to his wooden bench as if to consolation, then spreading in images of flight.”
Hinton said he’s still able to perform this work because of the workout he’s been doing for almost 40 years. It includes push-ups, sit-ups, balancing and lots of stretches.

WANT TO GO?

WHAT: Gaspard&Dancers annual concert.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (Oct. 18) and Saturday (Oct. 19).
WHERE: Reynolds Industries Theater, Duke University’s West campus.
TICKETS:  Call 919-684-4444.