Sarah Prescott and Karen Sayers, archivists, write:

Special Collections are pleased to share with you their BHM project by archivists to improve accessibility to the archives in the Phoenix Dance Theatre, RJC Dance and African Theatre collections. Throughout October we have been enhancing, and adding to, the online catalogue records for these collections.

Martin Banham, formerly Professor of Theatre and Drama Studies at the University of Leeds, taught at University College, Ibadan, Nigeria from 1956 to 1966, where he was involved with creating the School of Drama and setting up the student poetry magazine ‘The Horn’. He maintained close friendships with writers who would go on to shape the national literature of Nigeria, such as Wole Soyinka and J. P. Clark. Constantly developing his research interest in West African Theatre, Banham engaged with a wide range of writers, directors and academics.

colour programme for a performance of 'Langbodo'.
Programme for ‘Langbodo’ by Wale Ogunyemi. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Banham donated his archive of playscripts, correspondence and research materials to Special Collections in 2015. Although the material was briefly listed, the scope of the collection and its potential for research were not immediately apparent. We have now gathered separate accruals together and have created new catalogue records to reveal the scope and content of the archive, particularly Banham’s collection of West African writers’ playscripts.

One of our archivists has created 40 separate catalogue records for different playwrights and has recorded individual playscripts. Writers would often send draft scripts to Banham for comment, so many items in the collection are drafts, whilst other plays have not been published elsewhere. Cataloguing has highlighted the extent of Banham’s collaboration with Soyinka, J. P. Clark and many others. Particular highlights include substantial collections of playscripts from Femi Osofisan and Ola Rotimi, and a rehearsal playscript for the adaptation of C. L. R. James’s ‘The Black Jacobins’ performed at Ibadan in 1967.

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Phoenix Dance Theatre 40th anniversary image. Image courtesy of Phoenix Dance Theatre.

Phoenix Dance Theatre is a contemporary dance company based in Leeds which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Set up in 1981, by three black men David Hamilton, Donald Edwards and Vilmore James from Harehills, the company quickly gained a widespread following. Phoenix aims to stage performances that illustrate the company’s Caribbean history and reveal untold cultural narratives. The Phoenix Dance Theatre Collection in Leeds Special Collections is wide-ranging containing performance and production records, photographs, programmes and press packs.

RJC Dance is an inclusive Black dance organisation which prioritises youth development and education. Founded in Leeds in 1993, it aims to develop the next generation of diverse dancers and to promote the richness and value of Black British Dance. Our RJC Dance Collection includes performance and production records and posters.

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‘West Side Story Symphonic Dances’ by Phoenix Dance Theatre. Image courtesy of Phoenix Dance Theatre.

To enhance access to the archives of Phoenix and RJC we have improved the existing catalogue records and added new ones for people associated with the companies such as artistic directors and dancers. For Phoenix these include the founders David Hamilton, Donald Edwards, Vilmore James and artistic directors Nadine Senior, Darshan Singh Bhuller and Sharon Watson. For RJC there are now records for dancer and teacher Edward Lynch, dancer and artistic director Martin Robinson and director Kathy Williams.

Often there are Phoenix archives in other collections such as the Leeds Playhouse Collection and the South Bank Show Production Archive. Archivists have added links to these collections. Now if a researcher searches on the name Phoenix Dance Theatre, they can retrieve all the related archives. Phoenix continues to contribute to the cultural life of Leeds and further afield – see their website for upcoming performances and events.