Hemsley Winfield dances in and choreographs Metropolitan Opera’s The Emperor Jones

Hemsley Winfield’s New Negro Art Theater Dance Group performs in The Emperor Jones with the Metropolitan Opera, a production which Winfield also choreographed.

Screen grab via Wendy Perron.
Hemsley Winfield, hailed as the first African American modern dancer, was born in Yonkers, New York. Winfield was featured in several plays starting in 1928, including E. E. Cummings’ Him and Oscar Wilde’s Salome.
A dancer as well as an actor, he established the New Negro Art Theater Dance Group, which debuted on March 6, 1931. A few years later, in 1933, Winfield choreographed The Emperor Jones for New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. From January 7 to March 18 of that year, as well as in shows in Baltimore and Philadelphia, Winfield appeared as the Witch Doctor in the production. He was the “first African American to be contracted by the Metropolitan Opera in a major role” (Black Past).
Bruce Gulden reviewed the show for Dance Culture, saying “Hemsley Winfield as the witch-doctor gave a thrilling exhibition of savage dancing.”
Initially, the Metropolitan Opera wanted to darken the skin of white dancers. The production’s star Lawrence Tibbett said that he would quit if the Met went through with the decision (though he himself performed in blackface), thus the New Negro Art Theater Dance Group performed, becoming the first Black company to perform with the opera house. But the Met “retaliated,” omitting both the dancers’ and the company’s names from the program (Perron).

In Black Dance: From 1619 to Today, Lynne Fauley Emery determined that, with this production, Winfield was “the first black dancer to enter the world of ballet.”


Emery, Lynn Fauley. Black Dance, from 1619 to Today. Princeton Book Company, Publishers, 1998.
Hemsley Winfield (1907-1934), Black Past
Hemsley Winfield, Wendy Perron
Hemsley Winfield, Wikipedia

Other Happenings in 1933

Les Ballets 1933. Photo via Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research, 1988.

Ballet/Dance History

Oct 17: George Balanchine arrives in New York City.
George Balanchine and Boris Kochno’s Les Ballets 1933 is founded.
Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Masques and Les Rendezvous premiere.
George Balanchine’s The Seven Deadly Sins and Mozartiana premiere.

American History

Feb 15: Giuseppe Zangara tries to assassinate Franklin D. Roosevelt in Miami; Zangara instead wounds Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago, who dies March 6.
Mar 3: Mount Rushmore National Memorial is dedicated in South Dakota.
Mar 4: Franklin D. Roosevelt is inaugurated as the 32nd President of the United States.
Mar 7: Board game Monopoly is invented.
Jun 6: The first drive-in movie theater opens in New Jersey.

World History

Jan: A diagram of the London Underground is introduced to the public.
Jan 30: Adolf Hitler is appointed Chancellor of Germany.
Feb 27: The parliament building in Berlin, Germany, the Reichstag building, is set on fire.
Mar 3: The Sanriku earthquake and tsunami kills about 3000 people in Honshu, Japan.
Mar 23: Adolf Hitler is made dictator of Germany.
May 2: First modern sighting of the Loch Ness Monster allegedly occurs.
Aug 7: More than 3,000 Assyrian Iraqis are killed by government troops in Iraq.

Arts & Sciences

Jan 30: Radio show The Lone Ranger is broadcast for the first time.
Mar 2: King Kong premieres at Radio City Music Hall and the RKO Roxy Theatre.
May 27: Disney’s The Three Little Pigs is released.
Nov 17: Duck Soup, a Marx Brothers’ film, is released in the United States.

Human & Civil Rights

Mar 20: The first meeting of Jewish organizations occurs, calling for an international anti-Nazi boycott.
Mar 22: The first Nazi concentration camp at Dachau is opened.
Apr 13: The UK passes the Children and Young Persons Act.
Apr 26: The Gestapo is established in Nazi Germany.
May 8: Mohandas Gandhi begins a hunger strike, which lasts for three weeks, due to lower castes being mistreated.
Jul 4: Gandhi is sentenced to prison in India.


Apr 1: Cambridge wins the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.
Oct 3-7: The New York Giants win the 1933 World Series, beating the Washington Senators.
Dec 17: The first NFL Championship game takes place.


1933, Wikipedia
1933 – Modern Ballet, Dance Consortium
List of 1933 ballet premieres, Wikipedia

Leave a Reply