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We were delighted to be invited to participate in the 2014 MacLennan International Folk Dance Festival. This was a new experience for Kettle Bridge and so we were not quite sure what to expect. It turned out to be a fascinating mix of high quality dancing displays from the British Isles and beyond.
The first festival was held in 1982, when De Krekels of Bonheiden, in Flanders, Belgium, were the special guests. A festival has been held every year since, usually at the end May to coincide with the Bank Holiday weekend. There is usually a Folk Dance and Ceilidh on the Saturday night, and, on the Sunday afternoon, a Folk Dance Concert of demonstrations by the visiting groups, together with local folk groups and the MacLennan Group itself. Guest dancers have performed a wide variety of native folk dances including Latvian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Greek, Slovak and, closer to home, Irish, Morris and of course Highland.
In keeping with previous years, the 2014 festival featured a diverse group of performers.
De Kegelaar hail from Wilrijk in Flanders and was founded in 1965 to keep a number of folk traditions alive including singing, dancing, flag throwing and music. They also hold an annual folk festival with guest performers from across Europe. They are continually developing their style of folk dancing and try to use authentic costume designs. Each dance tells a story and they make full use of props to enhance the performance. For example, one of the dances they performed at Orpington involved eggs and another one was danced on stilts. It was pleasing to note how relatively young most of the dancers were and this youthful enthusiasm was demonstrated in their dances. They were a pleasure to watch.
Talking of youth, one of the perennial guests at the festival is Upland Junior Dancers. This group consists of past and current pupils of Upland Primary School and it was great to see the youngsters keeping alive the dancing traditions and enjoying all the benefits of learning, practising and performing dances – and it was obvious that they were having fun! .
It is not often that Kettle Bridge has the pleasure of appearing at the same event as a world champion dancer but that was the case today. The Heneghan-James School of Irish Dance is based in Reading and includes within its number Joe Flynn who is an Irish World Dance Champion. He was so light on his feet and managed some spectacular high kicks but was always graceful and controlled. He was not a one man band though and it was a real pleasure to see the other members of the group displaying their Irish dancing skills.
Any demonstration of Scottish dancing would be unthinkable without a proper accompaniment and this role was provided by the splendid Epping Forest Pipe Band. They were formed in 1974 and have performed their rousing pipe and drum music at local, national and international events ever since and even on television. They are fantastic to watch and listen to and provided a wonderfully authentic Scottish feel to the day (despite coming from Essex!).
And so to our hosts. The MacLennan Scottish Group was formed in 1978 and performs a wide variety of Scottish Country, Highland and Sword Dances to traditional Scottish music which is played on bagpipes, drums, accordion and fiddle. They do public performances, workshops, tuition sessions and appear at numerous organised events and festivals, most notably Europeade. They are very much in demand around Burns' Night! On top of all that, of course, they organise an annual Folk Dance Festival!
As the climax of the day's event, they put on a spectacular display of Scottish dancing, accompanied by the pipes and drums of Epping Forest. It was great to see such skill and enthusiasm from the dancers who obviously had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
Oh yes, I nearly forgot that we were there as well!
Kettle Bridge showcased probably their best dances, as you can see in the accompanying pictures. They were all very well appreciated by the audience who particularly loved Yellow Rose which featured Val's virtuoso solo spot. This was a fitting finale to a wonderful day's dancing and many thanks to MacLennan for inviting us to their most enjoyable event.