Les Ballets Nègres

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Description:'Les Ballets Nègres'- the first black dance company in Europe- was formed in London in 1946. It was founded by Jamaicans Richey Riley and Berto Pasuka who both came to Britain to pursue careers in dance. The performers in the company were from a diverse range of backgrounds including Nigerian, Jamaican, Trinidadian, Guyanese, Ghanaian and German.

The above poster refers to a set of performances which opened in London in 1946 and which came to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1948. The dance-dramas included 'Aggrey', 'They Came', 'Market Day', 'Blood' and 'De Bride Cry.'

Les Ballets Nègres presented ballet as it had not been seen before, challenging the form of classical ballet with its "spontaneous impressive emotion unfettered by prescribed form or pattern" (Birmingham Mail 17/8/1948.) Pasuka and Riley, who had studied classical ballet, infused it with African dance forms, and presented dramas based on African Caribbean folktales and rituals. Authentic black dance was brought to the stages of Britain and black ballet- the expression of human emotion in dance- was born.

Birmingham's local press was awed by the emotion of Les Ballets Nègres' performances:

"Thus afforded a strangely disturbing emotional experience, vital and compelling, with its blend of the primitive, the passionate, the joyful, the erotic, the sadistic, the fearful and even the horrible." (Birmingham Mail 17/8/1948.)

Both Pasuka, who appeared in the Birmingham performances as a 'fanatical Prophet' and 'high priest of Voodoo' and the other members of the company were widely acclaimed for the performance of their roles which they played with "every fibre of the body and every flicker and flame of the spirit" (ibid.)

Click on the link below to read an oral history interview with Richey Riley from the Black Cultural Archives:


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