American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 25, Number 4
December, 2005

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 AMN Article  

 The Revels and the Morris

George Emlen

The Revels was founded by John Langstaff in 1971. A uniquely North American phenomenon, it has always had a strong Morris dancing component to it. This is a reprint (with additions) of an article by George Emlen that appeared in the Fall, 2005, edition of the Revels Newsletter. You can learn more about the Revels at http://www.revels.org/.

Morris dancing has been an vital thread in the Revels tapestry from the beginning, but it shows up on various Revels stages around the country with different styles and traditions.

In Cambridge, the Pinewoods Morris Men are seeing an influx of younger dancers, many of whom are sons of the original team, mixing in with a graying generation. Pinewoods leader Tom Kruskal credits Revels for attracting new dancers to the field - because many people first see Morris dancing on the Revels stage and are intrigued by it. While some members opt out of Revels because of the grueling run of 17 performances, and a few others find it incongruous to take Morris dancing to the stage, most welcome the challenge and find it sharpens their skills.

Morris dancers in Portland Revels are unequivocal. "It's a natural fit," says Dick Lewis, who wears two hats as Morris man and writer of the Portland Revels scripts. "It's never felt like a plug-in, or artificial. There's already a kind of exuberance, a rush of pleasure, that comes from the dancing, and to be able to do that as part of a production so large and varied and fun" makes it even better. "You're doing what you normally would do, only bigger," he says.

It's true that the stage removes some of the immediacy that the dancers would have with an audience on the street. "But it's essentially performance dancing," says Lewis. "You're out there to entertain." It is ritual dance only because it's been repeated so many times, not because of its inherent nature.

In California, team dancer Ethan Hay articulates why Morris works so well in the Revels context. "For me, Morris dancing is the expression of the joy of celebration, an articulation of the joy of movement and an ode to the wonder of being alive - all qualities that Revels embodies," says Hay. "An important goal for every Morris dancer, and especially for ritual performances such as Revels, is to create a sustained pattern. When that happens time seems to stand still, the dance appears to sustain itself, and everyone is left with a mysterious sense of wonder, an answer that cannot otherwise be expressed or defined."

Hay says it is also about connecting to the audience. Not only does the dancing captivate audiences; it actually draws them to their feet for "Lord of the Dance," the quintessential connection experience. In the first few years of witnessing this phenomenon, he realized that "joining the dance is the whole point. In fact, we're all in it together, wherever we are and in whatever we do."

Revels North takes a completely different approach by using teenagers exclusively in their Morris dancing, including "Lord of the Dance." Artistic Director David Gay has always encouraged young people to get involved in Morris dancing, and not just for Revels. Hannah Lindner-Finlay is a 17-year-old dancer who says she "badgered" her mom (Jane Finlay, who danced with Ring o' Bells in New York for years) to start a girls' team in the Hanover area. 

Hannah finds her girls' team similar but not identical to the teen boys' team, which has been active longer. She finds the girls' style "more precise, a quieter energy, more intense," where the boys exude a more extroverted, stick-clashing energy, though essentially they're doing the same thing. "That's what good Morris dancing is - to be able to move and react to music, and both boys and girls do it. It's about presentation." She recently danced in "Lord of the Dance" and found the experience of learning all the steps almost overwhelming. "But doing it on stage is amazing - you feel so proud, giving the audience something, carrying the Revels magic through to the intermission. It gives the show and emotional push."

 AMN, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 2005  ISSN: 1074-2689