Country Dancing 1914 and 1986
August 7, 2014
Our plans to reopen The Other Place in 2016 remind me of many happy shows in the old tin hut, which stood on the site of the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
A TOP show that I loved was Nigel Williams's Country Dancing, which I saw in the Pit on its transfer to London, in 1987. The late, great Gerard Murphy was in the cast (right, with Amanda Harris), and the play was narrated by Richard Easton, who played Cecil Sharp.
Country Dancing tells the story of Sharp collecting songs and dances from villagers and in particular of a fiddler called Ted who will not play a tune for Sharp due to connections to a dark episode in the history of the village.
Sharp himself (left) was a fascinating, and real, figure; he was the founder, along with the composer George Butterworth, of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
Around the turn of the last century, many musicians feared that indigenous music might be lost if it wasn't written down and preserved. Vaughan Williams went on walking tours and transcribed folk songs from anyone who he met, and Bela Bartok did the same thing in Hungary.
A sense of nationalism became a part of the musical scene. This approach informed Vaughan Williams's use of traditional melodies in his music for us in 1913-14.
Country dancing in Stratford
Cecil Sharp approached the director Sir Frank Benson in 1911 to see if there could be any common ground between the Benson Company in Stratford and the Folk Dance Society.
As a result, folk dancing festivals took place in Stratford, in parallel with the seasons that Benson put on.
Many of Benson's actors became fascinated by the different art form, Harry Caine in particular, and immersed themselves in the dance classes that were given by Sharp, Maud Karpeles, who became Sharp's biographer, Douglas Kennedy and George Butterworth.
This YouTube video uses 1912 silent footage of Butterworth and Sharp.
I was delighted to find in the accounts some evidence of this interplay between the theatre and the Folk Dance Society; there is an inventory of payments in the archive ledgers – Sharpe is the only one allowed his initials, and Kennedy got 10/6, whilst Butterworth received 11 shillings.
Two years later, George Butterworth died, like so many artists, on the Somme in the Great War that was to so shatter the world.
by Richard Sandland
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