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Harlem's influence on British theatrical dancing put in the spotlight

11/06/2021
Harlem's influence on British theatrical dancing put in the spotlight

A University of Wolverhampton academic is jointly giving a talk on the influence that Harlem, New York (USA), had on dance in UK theatres in the 1930s.   

Sean Mayes, music director and conductor, will be joined by the University’s Senior Lecturer in Musical Theatre Dr Sarah Whitfield for the virtual event ‘Uncovering the influence of Harlem on dance in UK theatre in the 1930s’. The event is hosted by the Tap Dance Research Network. 

Sarah said: “Though some key Black practitioners like Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway’s visits to the UK are reasonably well known, the influence of Black dancers, choreographers and practitioners in the 1930s is still rarely discussed, despite their extensive presence in theatre in the UK.  

“Many African American dancers, like the Nicholas Brothers, Nyas Berry and Peg-Leg Bates, performed not only in the West End but across the UK. 

“Another aspect of Harlem theatre’s influence on the UK that has not been truly considered is the work of choreographers like Buddy Bradley who reshaped not only tap in the UK, but also jazz ballet, and Clarence Robinson, known for his work at the Cotton Club and Stormy Weather, who worked in the UK.”  

During the event, the speakers will explore the work of these key figures and the influence of practitioners from both the Caribbean islands and the mainland Caribbean region who had visited and worked in Harlem in the 1920s like Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson (born in Guyana) and Sam Manning (born in Trinidad).  

The event being hosted by Tap Dance Research Network UK takes place in Wednesday, 16 June from 7 pm to 8:30 pm. Tickets cost £4 (concessions) and £6 (general admission) and are bookable via Eventbrite. 

Mayes and Whitfield are also co-authors of the upcoming book ‘An Inconvenient Black History of British Musical Theatre 1900 – 1950. 

Music director and conductor Mayes’ work has included productions on stages across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. He is an active member of the Broadway community as a music director, orchestrator-arranger, vocal coach, accompanist and pit musician. In spring 2019, Mayes was music director and conductor of the all-Canadian premiere of ‘The Color Purple’. He is based between New York City and Toronto.  

Dr Sarah Whitfield writes about the history of musical theatre, and recovering the work that women and minoritised groups through archival research and digital humanities.  

For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

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