Jeffrey C. Kasch Foundation Research Trip: Aryn Kelly

I am deeply grateful for the Kasch funding, which allowed me to spend two days visiting the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ collection of ephemera relating to the 1939 production of The Hot Mikado. I was researching swing dance’s role in this production, as the lindy hop troupe billed as “Whitey’s Whirlwind Steppers” was featured in this jazzed up—though still fraught—rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado. The library’s collection theater stills, reviews, production advertisements, programs, and other clippings allowed me to explore both how swing dance factored into the show itself and how it was framed in messaging surrounding the production. Crucially, the robust collection of theater stills housed within the VanDamm Archive of the Billy Rose Theater Division also shed light on how swing dance vernacular may have influenced other dancing within the Hot Mikado not performed by the lindy hoppers themselves. Surprisingly, the various programs from iterations of the production—including one from when it was housed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair’s Hall of Music—proved to be incredibly helpful in identifying which dancers managed by Herbert White were credited as cast members. Indeed, this somewhat complicates existing understandings of the extent to which some influential Harlem-based lindy hoppers were involved in the production. Due to the ephemeral nature of the object I study, much of my research requires cobbling together bits and pieces of evidence of both of dance and how it functioned within its context. Being given the time and generous resources to explore NYPL’s collections enabled me to locate a wealth of primary sources to work into the patchwork of my research.