Talley Beatty choreographed and performed Mourner’s Bench in 1947. It represents the anguish and loss for former slaves, now free men, killed during the Reconstruction Era at the beginning of the rise of the Klu Klux Klan. Beatty explained to me, “People were murdered by the Klan and at daybreak their relatives would find their bodies in the fields still covered in the morning dew.”
W. Dean Arnett of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company performed opening night at the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina on June 21st, 1990. The Mississippi Mass Choir sings the spiritual Balm and Gilead A cappella. At the end of the performance Beatty comes on stage and taking a bow.
In photo: Jerome Stigler
Rodney K Hurley photographer
Bill (W. Dean) Arnett was a long-time student of James Truitte, who had been a lead dancer with the companies of Lester Horton and Alvin Ailey and was an authority on Horton’s technique and choreography. Mr. Truitte taught for over 25 years at the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music and was artist in residence with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, where he had taught a weekly class for 18 years.
Bill was coached by Mr. Truitte in Talley Beatty’s “Mourner’s Bench,” and he told me at the time that he felt privileged to be allowed to perform this important piece of Black dance history. He continued to delve deep into the piece over time as the piece had a special meaning in the late 80’s and early 90’s as many dancers and choreographers were felled by AIDS. —Sophia Fatouros