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Blog - Richard Downes

Review: This Girl Can Morris Dance


22nd March – 30th July 2017
Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regents Park Road, London, NW1 7AY

The Shakers Pom poms installed and celebrated

Everything inside is changing. Ups and downs and spinning round. Take exhibitions. They never turned me on. Cold rooms, snooty people. Scoot around, spend a second or two with something you like and get out quick. They might have captured life and held it prisoner in their mausoleums but it’s much more vibrant on the outside, unhindered by class or protocol. Today i’m modern, breaking with tradition.

We are on the top public floor of Cecil Sharp House, Folk Central UK, gazing at the Jubilee Wall Hanging, pointing out places we have been to, things we understand, tickled to see representations of maypoles and Morris Men, a target for todays humourists.

We are here to see, This Girl Can Morris Dance by Lucy Wright, artist, ethnomusicologist and Artistic Research Advocate. I have keyed into my full list of Morris stereotypes. Beards, Bells and Beer. I can’t say I’m fully prepared for what is about to unfold; revelations pertaining to carnival morris or maybe more derogatorily, ‘fluffy morris’, a competitive form of team dance from the north west of england traceable like much of the Celtic revival to the mid 1800s.

Immediately our minds are turned transatlantic towards the new world. We knew that music migrated and changed so why not dance too. Our anglocentric view may not allow for a reverse journey but these girls are glammed up, shiny, shaking pom poms. The cheer leading fraternity seem to have influenced routines that may have originated in our street parties and celebrations. Whilst Lucy Wright’s photos are of the now and of the north, historic artefact’s appear and focus tradition in time and place, raising questions as to where we were then, where we are now, what is conserved, what has changed and where we are going. Clearly with its familial links, demonstrated here by a wonderful shot of three generations, ‘Katie and Tayla’, this tradition is alive and kicking.

A private view gives you access to the artist and the curator; Julia. This adds to the pleasure I am surprised to be feeling having had my prejudices shaken but also allows me to activate my access standards. The exhibition as is EFDSS tradition held in the stairwell. I have had to challenge my vertigo all the way down but at least this boy can get down. Julia talks about taking my opinions forward and I believe she will. After all, Cecil Sharp, continuously monitor and improve access even to the extent of hosting Ju Gosling’s Wheelchair Morris – Worris or Wolk?.

We end the night at Mildred’s, a vegetarian vegan restaurant and take away. It is young, lively modern. We are the oldest people in town. We take strength from having been in the Cranks vanguard all those years ago and look forward to having our wisdom appreciated. Veggie fusions abound. I have smoked mushroom and ale pie. A final play for tradition.

I wake in the morning thinking about wearing a vest and shorts, carrying a standard around special school playground. It’s Mayday or St George’s. There’s a photo somewhere. I look proud to be the standard bearer but embarrassed to be in front of everyone. I wonder how many more of us have a memory like this. It wasn’t all about basket weaving. I also remember folk song. The Oak and The Ash and something that maybe spelled Lullabalero. Who knows? If you do; record your folk memory from the institutions here, below the mushroom pie.

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