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> > > Review: Youth Dance England’s 'U Dance 2012'

30 July 2012

morris dancers dressed in white at the Southbank Centre

Morris dancers dressed in white at the Southbank Centre. Photo by Julie Newman

Richard Downes popped in to see U.Dance 2012, Youth Dance England’s flagship event. Showcasing some of the best young dance groups from across the UK, the event took place between 13-15 July at Cecil Sharp House, London.

Should Saturday follow Sunday I would know where I might be but Sunday follows last and Saturday is over; cooked and confusing. Days become weeks, become months, become seasons.

Time turns. Rotation takes me back to special school. Behind me, a common where a king hid in an oak. Before me, a vista leading to Welsh hills where every Autumn fields are set ablaze and smokey. Seasons succour and defeat me, bringing fruits and harvest, scorching suns and asthma.

I forget such things on mainstreaming returning to the urban but the fire, paganistic symbol of inspiration, calls me. A later Autumn I find myself following Ken Rees's sociological study of Mythology, Folklore and Witchcraft and the road leads to Cecil Sharp House, home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, where I find myself again. This time gazing upon the sensational Morris Offspring, a group and dance choreographed by Laurel Swift, ally of Ju Gosling and Julie Newman who now plan Worris, Wheelchair Morris, a promised treat to come some future day. I am surprised to be in their company, leaders of the present, pointing to the future. I am forgetful of their past and the roots on which all this will be built on.

Morris Offspring are twelve young men and women backed by a band of four (fiddle, accordion, concertina, guitar) and storyteller Debs Newbold. Their aim is to embrace tradition but make something new and indeed I believe I espy new morris steps, turns and formations as energetic feet pummel boards and we are led again through the seasons told through the prism of the wheel of life. This is the company, the history and song.

I am on a learning weekend and amid the much scorned morris machine realising that the earth, the formative energy, holds the fire that sparks the piston legs that give birth to dance from whence music and story follow, never leading, only, perhaps, suggesting dance. Morris is described as effervescent, ever present, under sky and over ground. We are rooted and it is acknowledged that sometimes in the melee of the movement we are sometimes left alone.

We are treated at first to traditional attire, the uniform white, the flailing hankie, signs of unarmed battle, the bandaged red before youth turn to denim to civvies, before final military druid t-shirted spirals and raging red, orange and yellow fire nymphs bring forth puppet heads of boar and unicorn. Power, landed beast, mystical creature, both defined by horns, who do battle and carouse in a meeting of the spheres.

This is a tale of England, the times we still rejoice in, changing seasons, changing landscape, bordered by sea, an island state, the air we breathe. It is wholly elemental, numinous, a gift that brings forth plenty. We are left to consider who we are, where we've been and what we may be if only we should cast the runes and leave ourselves open to the mystery.

Thankful for the fruits and seeds we have eaten, the grains we have partaken in through drink (Cecil Sharp Scandal - Folkies Run Out Of Real Ale, supplanting the tradition with lager), and we give warm, appreciative applause in fair exchange for movement, colour, song and story.

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