American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 28, Number 1
May Day, 2008

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 In Celebration of Morris in America  

Reflecting on the New Old Films in the DVRA
Tony Barrand

On one of his trips to the U.S. in the 1970s, I got in conversation with Roy Dommett about the difficulty of interpreting dance movement from a notation, of dancing the way people did in another historical time. As I remember it, Roy suggested, on the evidence of the films he had taken, that the task was actually impossible or, at least, close to it. I think he said something like; "We can't even repeat or adequately describe the way we ourselves moved ten or twenty years ago." I think of this conversation a lot looking at clips online in the Digital Video Research Archive (DVRA).

Some new-old clips I obtained recently brought it again to mind. Just prior to his death, Barry Callaghan gave me permission to add material from his company, Garland Films. A few American readers may remember Barry as one of the musicians with the unforgettable women's team, Lizzie Dripping, at the 1989 Marlboro Morris Ale.

Films from Kinora reels of 1912

Kinora Personal Viewer
From the NYU Dead Media Archive

The NYU Dead Media Archive website describes the Kinora " a home entertainment movie machine around 1912. Only one or a couple [of] people could view the moving pictures which led to it being a device used mostly in the home and not on a larger scale."

Asking the fount of all Morris and sword knowledge about the Kinoras, former Morris ring archivist, Ivor Allsop wrote:

I can give you a little more information on the Kinoras. #933 [
George Butterworth dancing the Fieldtown jig, "Molly Oxford"]
was the trial, this was done at the Bodleain Library [with Mike Heaney, known to American dancers as a musician for Eynsham Morris?] because this one was among the Butterworth possessions that they had acquired.

There was a lot of trial and error getting the movements at the correct speed; one frame of Kinora to one frame of 16mm @ 24fps resulted in jerky movements; one frame of Kinora to two frames of 16mm smooth movements; one frame of Kinora to three frames of 16mm back to jerky movements. The other Kinoras were found in the Vaughan Williams [Library at Cecil Sharp House, headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society-VWML] and were copied by Barry [Callaghan] in Sheffield at [one Kinora frame to two] on 16mm. These Kinoras start with #933 and go through to #939 with the exception of the missing Kinora #936.

Where is it? What is it?

No idea we have been unable to find it, such a shame. Have a feeling that the place of filming was Kelmscott, near Oxford which if my memory serves me correct was the home of William Morris. According to notes on this project that I have #933 is with the Bodleain, #934 - #938 (excluding #936) are at VWML and #939 is in private hands, whose I don't know.

(personal email 5/29/07)

Much of Barry's work with Garland Films was on English clog and step dancing by luminaries such as Pat Tracey and Sam Sherry, both well known to American dancers. On one DVD copy of several Garland films sent to me by Chris Brady, formerly of Reading Traditional and Step Dance Group ("Reading Cloggies"), I found clips of Kinoras made almost one-hundred years ago in 1912. The originals are the property of the EFDSS. I had not known that Barry had been involved in the restoration of these valuable motion pictures. Most remarkable is the film of Cecil Sharp himself making up a foursome for the country dance, "Hey Boys Up Go We" (Kinora # 937). It's particularly interesting because Sharp is said to have refused to be recorded, claiming he could always go and play piano for anyone who wanted to hear him. Of course, he (or was it Butterworth?) made a mistake while the camera was rolling. That must been a topic of conversation over a drink after the filming session.

[I had poor copies of these clips added on the end of a video I was given of dancing at in St. Louis from May Day, 1989. I have no idea where or when the Kinoras were copied.]

What is the dancing like?

It's important to note first that the dancers were not working class people from English villages. They were all from what I'll call a more genteel segment of society and were all trained or, certainly, influenced by Cecil Sharp. George Butterworth, for example, came from a musical family, became a composer and was educated at Eton College (one of the oldest private, or what in England we call, "public" schools) and at Trinity College, Oxford University. Butterworth was aged twenty-seven (b. 1885) when he danced for the Kinora. His dancing is very careful and controlled, even tidy. An oddity that grabbed my attention were the arm movements in the sidestep where the arm is put up quickly and left up with little effort made to gesture with the handkerchief. Does anyone dance like that now? I have puzzled for many years about Sharp's notations which describe the arm movements rather than the gestures designed to "show" the handkerchiefs. In Butterworth's dancing, the handkerchiefs simply go where the hands take them.

The other surviving clips are of Cotswold Morris jigs with sisters Maud and Helen Karpeles (aged 27 and 25). Maud, herself a song and dance collector, was Sharp's biographer and secretary on all except the first of his song-collecting trips to the American southern states. She (and William Kimber) also demonstrated the dancing at Sharp's lectures. She has two jigs on the Kinoras: the Headington Quarry "Jockie to the Fair", from (Kinora 939) and parts of the Bampton "Princess Royal" (Kinora #934). With sister Helen Karpeles (Kinora 935), she also dances the Bampton "Lumps of Plum Pudding" as a simultaneous "double" jig.

Maud's hankies are used for strong gestures on the down-and-up movements and on the Bampton sidestep, though I note that, for the Headington dancing, she uses an open handkerchief held at one end rather than grabbed in a bundle by all four corners as indicated in Sharp's notation and as seen in the 1976 dancing of the Headington Quarry team trained by Kimber. The new-style handkerchief (held by one corner) encourages and results in an emphasis on a downward flick rather than the lift on the upbeat. The bunched hankies allow a smoother down-up movement. Both women, however, are very disciplined with the Headington and Bampton dances in restricting the up movement to shoulder height. This matches the 1976 Headington dancing. It is hard to achieve. I remember when teaching Headington repertoire to my own team in Marlboro, I had to ask dancers to think of lifting the arms only as high as the waist in order to get them to stop at shoulder height.

The Storrow-Conant Films from Amherst "schools"

This can be seen clearly in the films of the same dancers taken just fifteen years later in 1927. This is an exciting find. To my knowledge, these constitute the earliest examples of films of Morris set dancing. They were taken or, at least, paid for a member of the Storrow family. Mrs. Helen Storrow was responsible for introducing Sharp to Dame Olive Campbell whose collection of ballads convinced Sharp to make his trips to Appalachia in 1916-18.

Five reels were in the possession of Rick and Gerda Conant. Rick was a longtime dancer and fool with the Pinewoods Morris Men. The films were screened several times either at Pinewoods or locally in Boston. Jim Morrison, a former director of the Country Dance and Song Society (and founder of the Albemarle Morris Men) remembers seeing them on more than one occasion. They were deposited with the Boston Folk Dance Society. Films were transferred to VHS video tape in 1991 by Brad Sayler at the request of Rick Conant, and digitized in 2007 by Mitch Diamond at the suggestion of Jan Elliott who had a copy of the VHS version.

The Men's dancing:

May Gadd came to the U.S. to organize an American branch of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). Seven dancers and teachers, including a musician Elsie "Ruby" Avril, came over for the 1927 "school".

EFDSS Demonstration Team 1927

L - R: May Gadd, Arthur Heffer, Helen Kennedy, Douglas Kennedy, Elsie "Ruby" Avril,
J. G. Bergel, Marjorie Sinclair (Sinner), Phillip Terry, Joan Sharp, Rowland Heath,
Amy Stoddart, Tommy Adkins, Maud Karpeles

Photographer is unknown. Photo property of EFDSS.

Perhaps inspired by the Kinoras, the reel opens with a solo jig by Douglas Kennedy, the then Director of EFDSS. The Kinoras contain dances from Headington Quarry, Bampton and Fieldtown. Stretching the repertoire, Kennedy dances the Bledington "Lumps of Plum Pudding".

His jig is stronger and bolder than Butterworth's with vigorous and graceful stepping and handkerchief gestures. Douglas Kennedy's reputation is that he was a wonderful dancer so the difference may just be due to the skill of the individual. It may also be because of what was learned by Sharp's dancers from visits by the Travelling Morrice back to the Cotswold villages starting in 1924. The same strong set dancing is seen in the Adderbury "Constant Billy" and Fieldtown "Banks of the Dee". The Fieldtown dance, however, reveals what I think is Sharp's "Headington-izing" of Cotswold dances in that the downward movement of the arms is the strongest movement and the upward movement basically only extends to the shoulder level. Most teams today prefer to interpret the Fieldtown tunes and gestures with more emphasis on the "up" beat.

Most interesting again, I think, is the arm gesture on the sidestep. As with Butterworth's dancing, the hey is done with the leading arm being placed up very quickly and being left in a raised position for most of the evolution of the figure. The handkerchief simply follows the arm movement with no evident effort to "show" it.

The 1929 reel only shows a men's set dance from Headington, possibly "Getting Upstairs". The double-arm sidestep movements are very strong, although the hankies are held only by one corner. I should note that I learned from Roy Dommett in the late 1970s that the handkerchief in the Cotswolds used to be a large (ca. 24" square) piece of fabric used for wrapping one's head and carrying a farm worker's lunch. By Sharp's time, it had been "gentrified" into something smaller that could be folded and tucked into a jacket pocket. The new version of the hankie is not big enough to grasp bunched by four corners.

Women's Set Dancing:

In many ways, the real gems of these reels reside in the clips of women set dancing. Times being what they were, the women (Ladies?) danced in what seems to be the standard dress ("frock" in British English) and anklet bells. Maud Karpeles seems to be number one in the 1927 and 1929 sets. In 1927, they first perform a Bampton dance, "Highland Mary" . The stepping and the handkerchief gestures are strong but the hey once again reveals the unusual gesture of the arm being put up quickly and left up for most of the two measures of traveling steps. The handkerchief simply follows the arm with minimal "show".

I really like that they did the Headington stick dance, "Hunt the Squirrel". This dance is rarely seen from contemporary teams. It is impressive, too, that they next dance the Headington "Laudnum Bunches" (my Marlboro team called it the "dance of a hundred capers" and would count each plain caper out loud as the dance went along). It's strenuous but the women make it look easy. One has to note, though, if the film speed is any indication, they take the tempo fairly quickly.

In the 1929 reel, this is followed by the Headington "Trunkles", another dance with multiple plain capers. Long, new-style hankies again but attractive, vigorous gestures. Their dancing is very physical, especially while wearing dresses. I see this as significant because more contemporary women's sides who chose dresses as their kit seemed to dance in a "lady-like", less energetic way. The women in the 1927 and 1929 films seem not to mind sweating.

An interesting aspect of the films is that May Gadd figures prominently. Reasonable speculation is that she seems to be in the number three position in the sets. It seems to be her in the fragment of the Fieldtown "Nutting Girl" and in the double version of the same dance (done with Maud Karpeles?) from the 1931 school on reel #3. Very nice dancing but I was struck again by the use of the arms and hankies and the emphasis in the sidesteps on the down-beat. Debbie Lafoe of Woodford County High School, Versailles, Kentucky in 1975 (a much less experienced dancer) also danced very well but stressed the down movement on the double-steps. Debbie's dancing was based on CDSS interpretation. She picked the up-beat on the sidesteps with a show of hankies. A 1984 film of Julie Stevens and Susan Leuchter (Marlboro Morris and Sword) shows even more stressing of the up-beat, on double steps as well as sidesteps.

Was this just a change that happened in the U.S.? When did it happen? May Gadd was a major influence in the U.S. at Pinewoods. However, my memory is that, when Genny Shimer (the next director of CDSS after May Gadd, and another English woman) taught me to dance the Fieldtown "Nutting Girl" at Pinewoods in 1974, she stressed the up-beat on the sidestep.

The 1964 reel #5 of the Storrow - Conant films, taken on a Morris tour of Pinewoods Camp, may point to when it happened. 1964 was a year that Nibs Matthews (then director of EFDSS) came to teach at Pinewoods. The stress on the up-beat shows up right away in the opening clip of Bampton "Bonnie Green Garters". Was this the result of Nibs' teaching? His dancing was based on the fresh look at Cotswold village ways of dancing after the Morris Ring was created in 1934. His was the first new information to make it into Pinewoods practice after the "schools" in Amherst. After seeing so many women dancing as individuals or in sets on the early films, it is noticeable that the 1964 film shows a men-only tour. Was this another consequence of the Morris Ring, an organization designed, in part, to encourage men's dancing?

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