Brenda Edwards MBE
London Festival Ballet (English National Ballet)
London Contemporary Dance Theatre
Martha Graham Dance Company
Brixton-born Brenda Edwards, MBE joined the London Festival Ballet (now the English National Ballet) in 1986, becoming the first Black female dancer employed by the company.
It is said that Peter Schaufuss, artistic director of London Festival Ballet at the time, was supportive of Edwards, but, though there were Black men present in the company, there was (and is) more pressure on Black women dancers to fit into the “aesthetic” of the corps de ballet (The Guardian). Edwards recalls that she “sometimes felt as though she was reminded of her colour in the working environment” (252). Regarding her profession, Edwards said:
“It felt incredibly vibrant and diverse. There were lots of professional black dancers doing jazz, African-Caribbean, contemporary – though not many in ballet. It was only when I joined the ballet company that I came up against the politics of being black. There was a lot of attention around me, and I wasn’t used to that. But I was raised with a strong sense of who I am, and that helped me handle it.”
Edwards was “one of the few women to dance the leading role in Maurice Bejart’s Bolero.” In 1987, Edwards and Noel Wallace, the first Black dancer with the company, originated roles in Ulysses Dove’s Episodes.
When Edwards left the company as a soloist, she became a member of London Contemporary Dance Theatre and later danced with the Martha Graham Dance Company.
Edwards graduated from the De Montfort University in Leicester with a degree in dance theory.
In addition to her career teaching in Europe, she has been the associate producer at the Nottingham Playhouse and the producer for African/Caribbean Arts. She is the artistic director and producer of Hip, an “annual winter festival for performers of colour in the whole spectrum of dance, from hip hop to ballet” (Prospect Magazine). In 1999, she helped set up an exhibit on the Ballets Nègres.
Edwards has twice been nominated for the Cosmopolitan Woman of the Year award. In 2005, she was awarded an MBE.
Black British Ballet: Race, Representation and Aesthetics, Sandie Mae Bourne
Artistes: Brenda Edwards, MBE, International Ballet Masterclasses in Prague
Dance forecast, Prospect Magazine
How black dancers brought a new dynamism to British dance, The Guardian
Subject Guide: Black British Dance