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London Palladium hosts exhibition celebrating black performance history

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A new exhibition celebrating 200 years of black theatrical history has been launched at the London Palladium.

The Living Archive Exhibition features images of performers including 18th century street entertainer Billy Waters, internationally acclaimed classical actor Ira Aldridge, and black Edwardian music hall stars Bert Williams and George Walker.

The collection also throws a spotlight on 100 years of black performers at the Palladium, such as Adelaide Hall, the Harlem Renaissance star who made her London debut at the venue in 1931.

The items, which include photographs, posters and playbills, have been taken from the private collection of Leon Robinson, a former dancer and founder and artistic director of performing arts company Positive Steps.

Launching the exhibition, Robinson said: “Thanks to the Victorians, who were the greatest hoarders on this planet, we have so much theatrical history that we should all be proud of.

“During the Victorian and Edwardian period there were hundreds of black entertainers working in this country, and I think we should all be proud of that.”

The free exhibition will be presented in the foyer and box office area of the London Palladium, throughout the run of musical Sister Act.

The launch was attended by actor Simon Callow, who paid tribute to the work done by Robinson to raise the profile of black performance history.

Callow commented: “Leon taught me two things that are completely interconnected – one is that not nearly enough young black people are training as dancers, singers and actors. Secondly, that almost all black artists were oblivious to their own history.

“These are interconnected because too many people did not know the extraordinary achievement, the amazing variety and depth of work of black artists. If your history becomes invisible, you don’t know who you are. From that comes a reluctance to train, because you don’t feel you have a place in the world.”

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