Dancing with one foot in the past and one in the present

Morris Offspring. Photo by Sue Swift
Morris Offspring. Photo by Sue Swift

Morris Offspring a spirited 14-piece dance company will be performing at The Stade Open Space tomorrow (June 1) as part of the Stade Saturdays programme.

The company was established 10 years ago by Laurel Swift, a prominent figure in the folk scene, and she brought together Morris dancers from all over the country, including Rhys Boorman, from Hastings.

Laurel said: “At Sidmouth Folk Festival I got an opportunity to write a new piece of Morris.

“The aim was to try to translate Morris to the big stage.

“We have had people who started Morris dancing because they saw Morris Offspring and realised it was something to what their perception was.

“Audiences have really loved it and found it exciting.”

She said that musician and activist Billy Bragg came up to her after one of their shows and said that he had never seen the point of Morris dancing until he had seen Morris Offspring.

The Furnace is a collaboration between Morris Offspring and Faustus, a folk band comprising guitarist Benji Kirkpatrick, fiddler and oboe player Paul Sartin, plus Saul Rose on melodeon.

It is unusual for Morris dancers to be accompanied by musicians, and this will be the first time Morris Offspring and Faustus have performed The Furnace outdoors, meaning it could be quite a spectacle.

The audience can expect vocal harmony, cracking tunes, speed, sticks, and bounce.

Not to mention body paint and two giant puppets - a boar and a unicorn - thrown in for good measure.

“It’s going to be a big vat of fun and chaos,” said Laurel.

Laurel, at 35, is the oldest member of Morris Offspring, which also hints at how this company has broken with the stereotype of what Morris dancing is, though at the same time they have not broken with tradition entirely.

The dances she devises take stepping, figures and music from the traditions we know and love to produce a new version of the form for the stage.

Most of the members of Morris Offspring are children of those who were involved in the folk revival of the 1970s, and all are from Morris teams across the UK, bringing those influences with them.

The performance at The Stade will be the penultimate show from Morris Offspring, before the dancers go their separate ways.

Laurel herself, who is a musician as well as a dancer, is looking to put together a touring show of Morris dancers and folk artists.