Stephen Dwoskin's Arts Council film tells the story of Ballet Negres, an innovative all-black dance troupe founded by Jamaican dancer Berto Pasuka and active in Europe from 1946 to 1952. Exploring the company through archive film and photographs, as well as a reunion of the original members after 35 years, it climaxes with a vibrant performance of Pasuka's They Came by young black dancers. The film's fragmented style and lack of traditional talking heads can be challenging, but its historic value and rhythmic blend of sound and image reward the persistent viewer.
Berto Pasuka was a gay Jamaican who loved to dance. When he made Britain his home in 1939, he took a ballet course and found opportunities to dance in cabaret shows in West End night clubs during WWII. He also modelled for sculptors, painters and photographers, including Angus McBean, who admired his physique. After the war, while working with several other black dancers in the film Men of Two Worlds, Pasuka established Ballet Negres, Britain's first black ballet company. Bringing together dancers from the Caribbean and musicians from West Africa, the company sought to create and showcase dances based on black folklore, life in the West Indies and colonialism. Pasuka wrote and choreographed the ballets and mime was an integral part of his work. He died in Surrey in 1963 at the age of 43.