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A chorus of acclamation and nonstop applause— came at the site where surrounded by great cheers, Fred Benjamin, who was sitting on the wheelchair, appeared on the ground floor below the stage. He slowly stood up, turned his body toward the audience, and responded to the audience with a smile on his face, lifting his one hand. In fall 2003, Benjamin came down with a cerebral embolism suddenly during his visit to Japan. He was in critical condition at one point. It’s been about a year and half since then. He made a miracle comeback; his first show after the incident ended within great success. Although Benjamin spent nearly six months in hospital, he composed a full choreography for this performance using his everlasting wit. I asked Benjamin about his enthusiasm for the performance and his passion for dance.

COOL: Could you tell us about yourself?

Fred Benjamin: I am from Boston, Massachusetts, and I started dancing at a very early age. I moved to New York in 1962 to further my dance career and have been here ever since.

C: What made you interested in dance?

FB: When I was four years old my sisters took dance lessons. My mother had to bring me to them. I'm the youngest, and she had to keep an eye on me because I was a mess. So she put me in the classroom. That’s how it all started.

C: You've been in the dance industry for a long time ever since. What are the important factors for you as a dancer?

FB: Training in ballet class was very important to me. It kept me going for many, many years. And I studied ballet in NY and then did the musicals "Hello Dolly" and "Promises, Promises". They got me into my musical career, and while I was in "Hello Dolly" I started experimental (dances) with the company by own, and that was in 1968. I just kept going and going and going.

C: What is dance for you?

FB: It's hard (to explain). 'Cause it's what I can do all my life. Dance is what keeps me going and going. It's that important to me. It keeps me sane.

C: For this show, you use pretty modern songs from artists such as Destiny's Child, R.Kelly and Chaka Kahn, and also modern jazz songs. Do you choose songs by yourself, and how?

FB: Yes. I choose songs by myself. When I hear music, it starts to speak to me, on what to do dance-wise.

C: You mean lyrics speak to you, or music?

FB: Mostly music. What artists are trying to express, not just the words, but from the voice itself.

C: Where do you get your inspiration?

FB: I don't know, man. It's just there. When I hear music, I almost see a picture in my head. And then I know I want to use the particular music for something. Sometimes I listen to the music and I just see nothing. It's just for the enjoyment of music. Because listening to music is almost like work I can't make myself do. But it happens that I listen to the song and it makes me see pictures. Then I can't control that. It just goes.

C: So you visually see physical movements of bodies, rather than just a feeling or emotion?

FB: Well, I feel while I hear, (and it's like) movements, and so it's like music paints a picture for me so that I try to do that for the audience. It's like painting the picture that I saw in my mind.

C: You had a stroke almost 3 years ago in Japan, and since then you went through surgery and medical treatments. It must have been a long time for you. How did it affect you? Do you see any differences in your choreography before and after the stroke?

FB: Yes indeed. But I don't see any differences. It's continuous to me. I'm the same person. Well, I think it might be a little different. It's just that I have to do it more mentally (now). And I was mostly used to be doing stuff physically and be able to show them what I want. Now I have to do verbally. So I learned how to paint pictures with the words to show you, like, “I want to look like this”, and I had to make my own kind of vocabulary. In fact I showed them what to do (by words and drawings) but haven't just verbalized everything. I am very happy still.

C: This is your first time that you have done a performance after the stroke. How do you feel about it?

FB: I'm pretty happy. And I'm grateful that they came back to do this for me.

C: Your students here have such diversity. What do you think about those young dancers, who are trying to be successful like you, and those who want to start dancing?

FB: I think they are very, very brave 'cause it's a hard world to conquer, to make it possible. So I have a great respect for upcoming dancers. I'm not into race or anything. If I see within the dancer the love of dance, that makes me interested.

C: What is your next plan in your career?

FB: To keep doing constant work. I danced many dancing. I have done some script dancing. I've written dramatic plays. And I liked that but it's not quite as exciting or satisfying as dance.



--------------------
Fred Benjamin
Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1944, Fred Benjamin began dancing at the age of four. He danced at Talley Beatty Company from 1963 to 1966. He was strongly influenced by Talley Beatty. Later on, Benjamin moved to New York City and founded The Fred Benjamin Dance Company. He established the new genre, called "Ballet Jazz," which contains Modern Ballet's elements of Tally Beatty.



text by Takuya KATSUMURA, photo by Noho KUBOTA
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