watervole: (Patrick and Ian)
Tony Keen gave a talk at Novacon several years ago about the origins and development of Greek theatre, and I think he also wrote an article in Banana Wings on similar themes.

It made me realise how much the nature of theatre changes over time.  The Greek theatre developed in incremental stages from a religious ceremony to a play, with lots of features like the chours that changed their function and nature over time.

However, this phenomenon isn't limited to classical history.  I'm learning a lot about the early history of the morris, and some of that early development may be tied in with the history of tournaments.  Tournaments themselves developed from full scale battles in which people often got killed, to the formal joust that we're more familiar with from film and TV.  But as the tourney became less of a fight and more of a performance, the setting changed.  There was a need for drama, so the whole showcase of seeking a lady's favour, of fighting another knight for her love, of courtly romance, this all came about to give the fight a context.  Sometimes, it was staged to an extent that involved giant pieces of moving scenery (ships, mountains, castles) moved onto the stage.  Imagine the women in the castle spurning the love of  the knights aboard the ship, who then fight the castle's defenders.

At some stage in the proceedings (I'm only part way through the chapter...) it seems that dancers got involved.  It's an interesting question as to whether a morisk is the same thing as a morris.  The historical records leave tantalising clues, mostly in the form of accounts supplemented by a rare diary.

A clue seems to exist in the fact that early morris was often performed in front of a woman, as though the dancers were competing for her hand.  (More on this will probably come in later chapters as well).  Does this link in some way to the knights with their courtly love?  Was the morris a serious dance, or perhaps, a parody of the knights?

I'm finding the book, A History of Morris Dancing 1483-1750 to be a fascinating read, though I suspect it would be way too heavy and academic for the casual reader.  Forrest is scrupulously strict about his sources, gives you the exact quote from the court accounts, or parish records that he refers to. He collates the evidence in many different ways, which makes it much easier to pick out patterns.  However, he is also careful to point out where something can only be inferred and does not have evidence to prove it for certain.

Reading this, even though I'm less of a quarter of the way through it, I have a real sense of morris as a living, evolving dance.  Do not assume that the dance you see today is identical with what was danced in 1500.  Dance responds to the time and the place where it is performed.  We see that evolution continuing today.  North-West morris (the kind I'm most familiar with) is certainly evolving.  Every time a dance is passed onto another side, they will adapt it in small ways to suit their own style - I've learnt two versions of Colne in my time and there's a lot of difference between them.  New dances will be written to meet the needs of the dancers and their audiences.  eg.  Cloggies are working more on 6-person dances rather than the norm of 8 for NW morris -that's because there are less active dancers at present.  We can't always guarantee 8 people turning up for  a performance.

I see this as a good thing.  One of the features of most traditional morris dances is that they're names after the place (eg 'Colne') where they were first recorded.  If the dance hadn't been evolving back then, there wouldn't have been different local versions for collectors to record in the first place.

All forms of performance art evolve. 

Modern theatre is very  different to what Shakespeare knew - he'd probably be very surprised by modern productions of his plays.

Change keeps performance art relevant to the needs, budget, expectations and imagination of the audience of its time.  It's interesting to see what drives these changes, both in the past and the present.

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Judith Proctor

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