Queer Places:
The UCL Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, Gower St, Kings Cross, London WC1E 6BT
132 Seymour Pl, London W1H 1NS, UK

Richard "Richie" Riley (1910 - May 22, 1997) and Jamaican Berto Pasuka, proclaimed by the ballet critic of The Stage as ‘the most colourful dance personality since Isadora Duncan’, were the two men behind Les Ballets Nègres. Riley and Patrick Nelson knew each other for some time and perhaps met in Jamaica in the 1930s. Riley was living in Jamaica in the 1930s where he performed ballet in a company with Pasuka. After Pasuka wrote to Riley with news that he was ready to form a dance company in Britain, Riley migrated to London in 1946.

Riley gave up dance when the troupe disbanded and turned to painting and sculpture (he studied at the Slade). He was interviewed as part of a queer oral history project (Hall Carpenter) but deflected direct admissions of his sexuality (he had married) in what Professor Nadia Ellis has described as the ‘politics of delicacy’. His life and work were reflected in the BBC documentary Ballet Black (1982).

Pasuka, who in part left Jamaica to escape prejudice, was found dead in his Paris apartment with rumours that he was killed by a lover. He had continued to dance and was photographed by Angus McBean.

When the company had trouble paying wages, one of its supporters was Cambridge law fellow, Bryan Earle (Rufus) King, an important figure in the promotion of black interests and a supporter of a National Museum on his home country St Kitts and also of the Caribbean Artists Movement established in 1966. King had white British ancestors mixed in St Kitts with those of slaves. He was homosexual but largely non-practising “for lack of anyone to practise with” he is said to have declared, but in later life, living on St Kitts, several young men helped out in his house.

After Les Ballets Nègres, Riley became involved in the West Indian Standing Conference, established in 1958 as an umbrella organization representing African Caribbean communities in Britain.


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