18 May - 4 September 2016

Room 31


Berto Pasuka
by Angus McBean
NPG x199306

Les Ballets Nègres was the first all-black ballet company to form in London after the Second World War. Its first season was at the Twentieth Century Theatre in Westbourne Grove, London, in April 1946, under the artistic direction of the charismatic dancer and choreographer Berto Pasuka. Born Wilbert Passley in Jamaica, Pasuka came to England in 1939, performing in revue as well as studying at the Astafieva Dance School in London.

Together with co-founder and fellow Jamaican dancer Richie Riley, Pasuka assembled performers from Jamaica, Liverpool, Ghana, Nigeria, Trinidad and Britain to form Les Ballets Nègres. He choreographed most of the works, basing them on Afro-Caribbean folk-tales and rituals.

The troupe toured extensively in Britain and Europe for six years, their ground-breaking performances receiving both critical and public acclaim. The Ballet failed to get an official subsidy and it was not possible to sustain the company from box office takings alone so the company closed in 1952. While often forgotten in the history books, the pioneering work of Les Ballets Nègres was one of the foundations for Caribbean and African theatrical dance in Britain.

Les Ballets Nègres runs until 4 September 2016. A profile of Pandit Ram Gopal, the pioneer of classical Indian dance in Britain follows from 5 September to 11 December 2016.

Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948

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