During the day I became increasingly confused as to the purpose of bringing us all together, particularly as we didn’t really attend to the questions that had been circulated before hand. My understanding was that we would discuss the questions supported by some information about Mary herself, in order to help Lucy move on to the next phase of her project. Writing a letter to myself about my own practice didn’t seem in line with that. I didn’t see the event as being particularly useful to my own professional development and so felt that there had been a bit of a wasted opportunity to really get to the heart of something.
It is great to encourage folk artists and theatre makers, dancers and performance artists to discuss shared issues and work something out together. I’m not sure about how successful this was during this day. We were just beginning find ways to understand each other’s frames of reference and language right at the end of the day, and perhaps more time (or more focused exercises in the morning) would have helped create a real dialogue. During the time that we were given to write our letters, I was talking to Laurel about the issues that were bothering me, and what I came to was the separation between a group of people that talk about something, and a group of people that just get on and do it. In terms of our indigenous folk culture, it is full of people who just get on and do it because it is part of their lives, their passion and their heritage. This is very different from a fine artist, theatre maker or performance artist who is interested in the concept of folk tradition in order to plunder it for their art. If a choreographer borrows steps from a Morris dance in order to develop a new performance, are they making something that is truly collaborative, or are they making contemporary dance as they always make contemporary dance? Those issues would have been interesting to discuss in more detail and I'm sure we would have all learnt something new from one another.
Rather than writing a letter to myself, I would have been much happier to write a letter to you that outlined some of the things that came up for me during the day. I would have felt that I had contributed in a more concrete way to Lucy’s development of the project.
The invitation to look at the archive materials was interesting. I’d never seen some of the things we were invited to look at. Our group was a bit confused as to what we were looking for, or what connections it was hoped we make. We were all interested in different things, and it might have been useful to know more about each of our backgrounds and interests to give some context to why bits of information triggered interest in different people. I was slightly frustrated at the mix of materials on the table – the reason was because it was evident that there was a connection between them (obviously Lucy and team have done a lot of research on this already) but that we were given an opportunity to find it out for ourselves – I felt as though it was a constructed rather than constructive exercise (does that make sense??). Again I wasn’t sure whether we were helping to further the research or get to the same point that the project had already reached. I understand that the mix of perspectives might have found something new for you but it didn't feel as though we were really helping to move something forward - rather that it was a sharing exercise.
What came out of the day for me was the importance of the ‘event’ in folk tradition. I.e. the annual day of dance that everyone steps out for regardless of whether there is an assembled audience (this could be applied to annual cheese rolling, tar barrelling etc etc), in contrast to the performance that is rehearsed and performed in a theatre to a paying public. This concept of event driven theatre practice is something that I’m beginning to explore in my own work as a theatre maker, and it’s interesting to pull apart because of my involvement in folk traditions. I’m sure a penny dropping here somewhere will have an influence on what I might do in the future.
It was great to see people who I haven’t seen for a while and was useful to make contact with again and to meet new people – both from the folk scene and from elsewhere.
I was very interested to hear that the Esperance Club had previously met socially and had sung Bach cantatas etc, before becoming interested in English folk song and then ultimately dance. I was really interested to learn that the impetus for absorbing the dances came from the club itself, and not imposed on them by Mary Neal or others, which is what I’d assumed in the first instance. When I heard this I was thinking about the youth work that I do, and that it’s not really all that different. You can only engage young people in activity that they want to do, and that it has to be led by them. It is fascinating that we could possibly trace back the whole Morris revival to a group of interested young women in London! It does pose an interesting challenge for the next phase of the Mary Neal Project, how to interest young people in this material in wanting to be involved and wanting to learn more.