About the project


In September 2015, the Department of Dance at the University of Roehampton began work on a yearlong project titled Breakdown Harmonica; the research examines and documents the dance Harmonica Breakdown, choreographed by Jane Dudley in 1938. Funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Digital Transformations Small Grant scheme, the project is a collaboration between the University of Roehampton and the University of Surrey.

Harmonica Breakdown Project

The Harmonica Breakdown project aims to explore manners through which dynamic media can more clearly communicate a dance. The primary source material for the project is the dance Harmonica Breakdown (1938)choreographed by Jane Dudley.

Dudley was for many years a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company before becoming Director of Contemporary Dance at the London Contemporary Dance School in 1970. Harmonica Breakdown is one of Dudley’s  most  notable  works.  Accompanied by a harmonica blues score by musician Sonny Terry, the dance takes as its subject matter the ‘struggles of African American workers during the Dust Bowl’.  

Sheron Wray during motion capturing session at Surrey University in January 2016
Sheron Wray during motion capturing session at Surrey University in January 2016

Sheron Wray, the dancer to whom Jane Dudley entrusted the work on her death, will reconstruct Harmonica Breakdown for the project. In addition to Wray’s many years experience performing and teaching the piece, there is a substantial amount of video footage of Jane Dudley teaching the dance to Wray as well as interviews of Dudley about the development and intent of the work. This intent together with representations of flow and energy will be developed into an interactive score of the work with the objective of using video game technologies to represent the entire work. 

Harmonica Breakdown – Speaking about the Dance 1995