Rebecca Crookes had a stroke of luck at the weekend when the sun came out adding to the chilled Sunday afternoon vibe she managed to create for her live-streamed, improvised tap performance.
Dressed in dungarees and performing on a small tap board, Rebecca seemed to be in some kind of farmyard and indeed her friendly guitarist, Kyle Lamley, suggested we might pour ourselves a pink gin and lemonade and take a sip each time we spotted a pig in the background.
Tap dancing can be associated with a certain freneticism but not here. Keen to show that the dance form wasn’t all about musical theatre or top hats and tails, Rebecca danced in an almost leisurely fashion with unexpected gliding motions, choosing surprising modern tracks such as T Rex’s Cosmic Dancer, as used in the film Billy Elliot.
Relaxing as her pop music choices were, I realised after a while that the impression of calm was slightly misleading. She was like a graceful swan, top half composed whilst her active feet below actually notched up what must have been a phenomenal number of toe taps, shuffles and pick ups.
There were a few problems, at least for me, with connectivity so the music didn’t come across quite as clearly as I would have liked but with Randy Newman’s You’ve Got a Friend In Me everything came together - the simple lyrics and rhythm worked brilliantly with Rebecca’s uniquely controlled tap style.
She plans to come to Buxton Fringe in person next year with a fully choreographed show. I can’t wait but I’m glad I had the chance to ‘meet’ her in this informal setting first.
It has been my privilege and pleasure to watch Chapel-En-Le-Frith Morris Men dance in Buxton over many years. I do believe they have supported the Fringe ever since its early days in 1980 and danced in many locations throughout the town. This year they have excelled themselves and offered a feast of Morris Dancing for us to watch and six other activities for us to do.
And what a lot of variety they have have with offerings from 16 Morris sides to entertain us covering the wide spectrum of styles danced across the country. So many that it was indeed a challenge to watch all the videos within a single day, so I'd recommend settling down for an enjoyable week of dance rather than a day of dance! Because many of the videos are on YouTube, it is a pleasure to watch them in full screen. As a bonus, after watching one video often more follow.
Many of these sides shared videos of their past performances outside the Buxton Opera House which was seemingly appropriate, while others gave us other locations. It was interesting to map where the sides came from and the locations they were dancing in, many miles way.
In Chapel-En-Le-Frith's first dance, Bumpus O'Stretton, if you listen to the beat of the bells you will appreciate how much the whole side is dancing on the beat of the music.
I'd recommend you pick the sides you fancy watching rather than working through in alphabetical sequence. The pictures on the cards in the dance jukebox give an indication of the style each side performs.
Adlington offers up old footage dancing in Middlewich, 60 miles to the south, whereas Beggars' Oak Clog show us how they have managed to keep practising while socially distancing in Abbots Bromley. Ansley Morris have continued practising through lockdown by meeting on Zoom - though I reckon they must all be lying on their beds to practice.
There are several young sides full of vigour, adding their own interpretation to old dances, creating new ones and experimenting with different instrumentation, thus bringing Morris life up to date into the 21st century. Bakanalia, a Leicester side, have fun with their own distinctive robust style. Theirs was one whose YouTube video rolling over to show 'JMO 2018 Bakanalia Border Morris 2' gave me the pleasure of seeing them dance again. Makeney is another youthful team you really should watch, obviously enjoying what they do, and the music accompaniment truly enhances this performance.
Powderkegs offer a flamingly brilliant vibrant performance, whereas 'Beltane Border Morris dance 'Jolly Roger' at the Black Meet 2018' (another YouTube roll-over bonus) was definitely a dark eye-opener. Compare their youthful display of stick clashing with that of the more traditional performance from Domesday Border Morris from North Staffordshire.
I always think that Clog Morris is far gentler on the knees for older heavier dancers though this form of dance is not exclusively for them and can be quite lively. Milltown Clogs keeping cool in blue, while Beggars' Oak wear green. Old Meg Morris with ladies in red from the Malvern Hills perform excellent North West Morris, dancing Clitheroe at Clitheroe Castle so I do hope they will be able to dance in Buxton next year and maybe come up with a dance called Buxton Spa. Poynton Jammers offered a hoop dance and it is well danced with clean, even lift of the feet throughout the dance and the precision of their dancing Nine Mans Morris. I mention here another rollover video that came up: 'Mortimers Morris in York 2019 (2)' which excellently demonstrates the high knee lift encountered in North West Morris Dance. Manchester Morris have bells on their clogs so you can clearly hear that they are all in time – not a mean feat for ten men all dancing at the same time and Ripley Green Garters skirts flare well when they dance. Maybe they should bring their umbrellas rather than their short sticks to dance in Buxton, providing the audience was equally well equipped.
Harthill Morris bring a bit of sunshine to Buxton with their Cotswold Morris, while Mendip Morris show their expertise with hucklebacks, not the easiest of steps to master.
Winster Morris Dancers have a long history of dancing. The dance they offered on video was called Jo P named after the original musician and local grocer in 1930. Their hankie work in this is perfectly in time. From the pictures and videos on their website, you can see they do not limit themselves to a particular tradition but embrace involving the public as well as processional dancing and displaying sword and rapper dances.
Now I was expecting the random dance button to play the jukebox sides in a random order, but no, there were hidden treasures to be enjoyed here and you really must keep pressing it to see what comes up and be sure not to miss Dogrose Morris dancing Extreme Morris bashing each other over their heads with beer trays and leaping extremely high forey capers (referred to as skeggies in Leicester). Another two to watch out for is the one outside the Buxton Opera house to the tune of Lord of the Dance and the one where Old Meg Morris are dancing round an open Morris Minor car.
Finally, there are five activities for you to participate in. Have several goes at Get Matchy to see if you can improve on your time and, if you come back daily, whether you have improved. The quiz is fun - you'll be doing well if you get more than 3 answers right at your first attempt. Try it before you visit each of the 16 dance sides in the Jukebox and then have another go. I love the 3D Get Crafty so cleverly designed to build a whole side and band should you wish – why not colour the faces to look like yourselves or your favourite performer? I liked the neat way the Get Searchy worked, highlighting the words found. The Get Jiggy jigsaw was satisfyingly challenging and I liked the way the pieces made a rewarding clunk when they fitted satisfactorily. After completing that there are many more many simpler ones to solve.
All in all an excellent way to spend a day (or two or more). Thank you, Chapel-En-Le-Frith for putting together a Virtual Day of Dance so effectively. I hope you will be able to enjoy celebrating your 50th anniversary in Buxton in five years time. I shall look forward to that as well as watching your extended side next year.