In the archives at Jacob’s Pillow a 1948 video of Talley Beatty performing “Mourner’s Bench,” plays on a loop. In the space of a couple minutes, Beatty moves fluidly through wave-like motions, contracting and extending his body with a coiled intensity searching for release. The black and white footage is silent and flickering, and it is difficult to make out the expression on his face. Watching it over and over, I am struck by how Beatty continues to rise up with a Phoenix-like quality, eventually lifting up so much he executes a precarious one leg balance and promenade on top of the narrow bench. Near the end, he rolls side to side on the bench—roiled with grief, presumably—pausing in big arches of his spine in a gesture of supplication before crumbling to the side of the bench. The effort and intention strike a universal human chord, though “Southern Landscapes,” the work this solo is excerpted from, was based on the particular: inspired by Howard Fast’s novel Freedom Road which was set during Reconstruction and addresses both interracial coalitions for progress and the devastating advent of the Ku Klux Klan.
Taylor Stanley in "Mourner's Bench" performed in "Dichotomous Being: An Evening of Taylor Stanley." Photo by Danica Paulos