News

Survey Launched to Map Out Landscape of Traditional Crafts Makers in Scotland

TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) together with Creative Scotland, Craft Scotland and Museums Galleries Scotland have launched a new research survey to understand the landscape of traditional crafts makers currently active in Scotland.

The research is in response to a wider report published in 2021, looking at Scotland’s “intangible cultural heritage”, a term used by UNESCO to describe traditional cultures including music, dance and storytelling alongside the knowledge passed down through generations regarding traditional crafts practices. In the Scottish context, this includes handloom weaving, shinty stick making, traditional musical instruments, basketwork, lacemaking, hand knitting styles and woodworking amongst many others, with such crafts often having local or regional designs unique to parts of Scotland.

Craft specialists, Really Interesting Objects, have been commissioned to undertake the work, building on research from 2016 commissioned by Creative Scotland which updated a 1994/95 study and indicated a decline in traditional crafts makers and an aging demographic. The new survey aims to find out what has changed in recent years, aiming to reach as many traditional crafts makers as possible to capture information on their traditional craft and unique skills.

This new Scotland-focussed research comes within weeks of the UK-wide body Heritage Crafts raising public attention with its latest Red List of Endangered Crafts 2023, which found that 5 new crafts have been added to the “critically endangered” category, joining the list of a further 146 at-risk crafts across the UK, with one craft becoming extinct since the previous Red List was published.  For Scotland, Fair Isle chair making, Highland thatching, sporran making, wooden flute making and kishie basket making are all on the critically endangered list.

Director of TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) Steve Byrne said:

At TRACS we recognise the parallels for crafts makers with our tradition bearers in music, dance and storytelling who carry key traditional knowledge, often passed down through oral and local community routes. Many traditional skills are under threat of being lost and we need to reach people with such skills and knowledge to be able to support them, to ensure these distinctive skills are passed on to young people today and safeguarded for future generations.  At a time when we are thinking about sustainability, reuse and renewal, the skills and knowledge held by traditional makers are even more valuable than ever.

Irene Kernan, Director, Craft Scotland said:

Craft Scotland promotes a wide range of contemporary craft but many of the craft disciplines that we support have been practised for generations and have strong links to Scottish heritage and traditional craft skills.

Sustaining these skills is vital for ensuring a vibrant craft sector in the future, so we are delighted to partner on this important piece of research about traditional and indigenous crafts in Scotland today.

The Traditional Crafts in Scotland Survey first launched in late May 2023 at this year’s Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) conference in Birnam, Perthshire, led by TRACS and key partners, where a particular focus was given to the importance of traditional crafts with presentations by Daniel Carpenter from the Heritage Crafts Association and Dr Michelle Stefano, folklife specialist at the American Folklife Center at the US Library of Congress.

With the findings of the latest research, TRACS and partners are hoping to establish longer-term sustainable solutions for the traditional crafts sector to avoid further decline, and to celebrate and share the invaluable skills and knowledge that have been passed down from generation to generation. One potential solution could be the addition of a Scottish Traditional Crafts Forum under the TRACS co-operative network which currently supports three forums for traditional music, storytelling and dance.

The survey is live and open until 31st July 2023, and is aimed at any professional makers as well as people who practise traditional crafts part-time or as a hobby.

Traditional Crafts in Scotland Survey link: www.bit.ly/tradcrafts

 

News

Scottish International Storytelling Festival to return from 13 – 29 October 2023

Following the success of last year, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival (SISF) is set to return to various venues throughout Edinburgh from 13-29 October 2023, thanks to continued support from the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund and Creative Scotland.

The festival is the world’s largest celebration of storytelling. This year it will mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a programme packed with stories, conversations, dance, talks and live music celebrating our ‘Right To Be Human’, and looking at how this is impacted by war, gender inequality, censorship, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious prejudices, and other threats and challenges.

Artists confirmed for this year include festival favourites Peter Chand, Bea Ferguson, Jess Smith, Gauri Raje, David Campbell and Ruth Kirkpatrick, who will take centre stage alongside some of the best rising talents including Daniel Serridge, Marie Louise Cochrane, Shona Cowie, James Stedman and Neil Sutcliffe.

Online audiences will be able to enjoy the digital Global Lab which will garner international experiences around the ‘Right To Be Human’ theme, with live guests including Sami storyteller and musician Berit Alette championing indigenous culture beyond the Arctic Circle, and Iranian storyteller Zahra Afsah voicing women’s rights through stories from ancient times to the present. Plus, there will be the premiere of the new SISF podcast series that will be available in the lead up to, and during the festival.

2023 will also see the return of Go Local events in Edinburgh and across Scotland, Art of the Storyteller workshops, and a variety of free and ticketed family events. The full programme will be launched week beginning 11th September, more to be announced.

To hear about the latest Scottish International Storytelling Festival news and events, sign up to the SISF newsletter and follow the festival on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @scotstoryfest.

News

To Ukraine with Love

How could we support communities of New Scots to shape and share their stories? As one of the three founding members of TRACS, Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland initiated To Ukraine with Love – a project aimed at supporting the community of displaced people from Ukraine in Edinburgh to shape and share the story of their newly adopted home through Ukrainian folk dance, choral music and stories of migration.

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Let’s rewind back to April 2022 and our inaugural Pomegranates Festival when we started our research into Scotland’s Ukrainian diaspora which dates back to the First World War and beyond. In times of uncertainty, displacement and border restrictions, our Pomegranates Festival has sprung to celebrate and amplify the contributions of creative migrants in Scotland. Whether they migrated from Ukraine and elsewhere, or were first or second-generation immigrants born in Scotland, these were artists whose family histories or migratory experiences had enriched both their practice and the wider Scottish artistic panorama, including traditional dance. The words of Ian McMillan, a poet of Scottish heritage, resonated with us:

“Uncertainty

Is the new certainty

Displacement

Is the new stability

And language’s ability

To comprehend

Is starting to bend

And crack.”

@IMcMillan

Portrait of Ella Moore by Iliyana Nedkova. Headdress in tribute to Ukrainian traditional dance artists courtesy of costume designer Fiona Rose Gregory

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Yet, in April 2022 our initial curatorial search failed. No mater how far and wide we looked, we couldn’t find any creative migrants from Ukraine who fled their country, carrying hardly anything but their passion for Ukrainian traditional dance across borders and battlefields to reach Scotland. What we were able to do, instead, was to commission a new headdress in tribute to the Ukrainian traditional dance artists courtesy of floral designer Fiona Rose Gregory. This spectacular Ukrainian trad craft-inspired headdress was brought to life as part of our Pomegranates Promanade finale by the Scottish dancer Ella Moore. Spot Ella’s Ukrainian folk dance set on the stage as part of our Promenade video highlights here. 

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Portrait of Alena Rogozhkina by Tiu Makkonen. Alena performing at the vernisssage of Consequences. Art and Activism in the Nuclear Age

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Undeterred, we persevered with our curatorial search until August 2022 when we crossed paths with Alena Rogozhkina – the only Scotland-based Ukrainian-born artist exhibiting as part of the show Consequences. Art and Activism in the Nuclear Age at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall – the community arts space dubbed ‘the beating heart of Leith’. As a recent graduate of Leith School of Art and a qualified cognitive psychologist, Alena was best placed to connect us with the Ukrainian community in Edinburgh while leading creative community projects in partnership with organisations like Peace & Justice (Scoland) and AUGB (Edinburgh Ukrainian Community Club).

“Co-creating together with adults and children affected by monstrous circumstances or humanitarian disasters means the world to me. What I love about facilitating creative experiences with displaced and disadvantaged communities is that there is no room for inequality or racism. We use art as a way to connect and share who we truly are regardless our previous backgrounds, language, gender, origin or limited beliefs.”

Alena Rogozhkina

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Portrait of Anastasiia Boiko and Oksana Saiapina by Eleanor Sinclair. Delivering a workshop of Ukrainian folk dance at Pomegranates Festival in April 2023 at St. Leonard’s Studio, Moray House School of Education and Sport

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It was Alena who kindly conducted the search for professionally trained folk dance artists on our behalf and soon introduced us to two feisty women – Oksana Saiapina and Anastasiia Boiko, who both fled Ukraine in April 2022 and since settled in Edinburgh. A year later, In April 2023, Oksana and Anastasia met, taught and performed for the first time together at our Pomegranates Festival, acclaimed as “a rhythmic wonderland of vibrant folk dances and melodies spanning almost all continents” by art critic Inesa Vėlavičiūtė.

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While Oksana has led a dance studio training young people for over 15 years and won high-level competition awards, Anastasiia is currently studying remotely and about to graduate from Serge Lyfar Kyiv Municipal Academy of Dance in Ukraine. In Edinburgh, they have been teaching dance classes at the Ukrainian Cummunity Centre to some of the 800 displaced children.

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If Pomegranates 2023 was Oksana and Anastasiia debut on the Edinburgh festival stage, a month later came the 10th anniversary of the Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival. We curated two more Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland presentations by Oksana and Anastasiia celebrating the role of women as tradition keepers and dance innovators in our contemporary world.

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Portrait of Anastasiia Boiko and Oksana Saiapina by Iliyana Nedkova. Performing at Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival 2023, Edinburgh Central Library

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For Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival Oksana and Anastasiia selected and performed a set of Ukrainian folk dance duets, including Hoptsa Dritsa, a dance full of humour and cheek, as well as Hutsulska, a dance based on a folk tune with Scottish motifs. These popular and fast-paced trad dances of Ukraine soon got nearly everybody on their feet. The two dances were preceded by Soul Flower – a choreographed dance, set to music with lyrics by Diane Golde and composition by Kostyantyn Meladze. Always advocating for live music and dance whenever possible, we were pleased to welcome the Ukrainian Community Choir Oberig led by Karina Cherviakova to accompany the duo perform Soul Flower creating collaborative magic on stage.

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Ukrainian Community Choir Oberig led by Karina Cherviakova (centre) with Anastasiia Boiko and Oksana Saiapina performing at at Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival. Image by Barrie Barretto 

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In the words of the professional singer and conductor Karina Cherviakova:

“We were honoured to support the two dancers Oksana and Anastasiia with members of Oberig Choir at Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival. This was our first collaboration with Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland and we are already planning our next. Although our choir was reinvented under the new name of Oberig (meaning ‘talisman/amulet’ in Ukrainian) in November 2022, it was established by Ukrainian emigrants who came to Edinburgh after the Second World War. Some of these founding members are still performing with us!”

Karina Cherviakova

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In addition, we took a deep dive in the harrowing stories of struggle, support and solidarity with Tanya Balanova, a Ukrainain humanitarian aid worker Tanya contextualised the plight of the Ukrainian community in Scotland, including Oksana and Anastasiia – just two of the over 1000 displaced people housed on MS Victoria I passenger ship, docked in Edinburgh’s Leith Harbour. This sobering talk and call for action was moderated by Prof. Yvonne McEwan, one of the founders of the Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival.

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Prof. Yvonne McEwan in conversation with Tanya Balanova at Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival. Image by Barrie Barretto 

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In line with our TRACS focus on minority cultures and languages, we also sought the support of Olena Singh, an aspiring cultural manager of Oberig Choir and interpreter from and to the Ukrainian. If the 2011 Scottish Census found that more than 150 languages other than English are used in Scottish homes, including Gaelic, Scots, BSL and Nawken (or ‘gypsies/travellers’), we believe that Ukrainian will feature high in the next Census.

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Missed the in-person trad dance experience at the Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival? Head over to our Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland YouTube Channel where together with our videographer Barrie Barretto we created a playlist with all the songs, stories and dances shared at the festival for all to watch and listen. Tune into our Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival 2023 YouTube Playlist here.

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Iliyana Nedkova and Olena Singh introducing The Feisty Trad Dance Artists of Ukraine performances at at Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival. Image by Barrie Barretto 

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As our People’s Project: Ukraine continues to evolve we are fostering a collaboration with Moray House School of Education and Sport, as well as Dance Base, Scotland’s National Centre for Dance to enable not only Oksana and Anastasiia but also another professionally trained trad dancer Tetiana Hordiienko to maintain their professional development by taking regular dance classes.

In addition, we are also mentoring the trio of Ukrainian dancers to devise and lead their own classes in character dance. A specific subdivision of classical dance, character dance is a stylized form of a traditional dance which uses movements and music adapted for the theatre stage. It is underrepresented across Scotland and we do hope that this mini-revival will be well received. Stay tuned for the next chapter in our People’s Project: Ukraine. It’s promising to be full of character…dance.

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Oksana Saiapina and Anastasiia Boiko leading a workshop in Ukrainian folk dance at Pomegranates 2023 Festival. Image by Barrie Barretto 

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To Ukraine with Love is curated by Wendy Timmons and Iliyana Nedkova on behalf of TRACS and Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland. It is supported by Scottish Community Alliance’s Pockets and Prospects Fund

 

News
News

TRACS Chair Andrew Bachell Reflects on a Day of Intangible Cultural Heritage

We recently published a Wee Guide to Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) to give you a brief overview, and to highlight the major opportunities and challenges faced by arts and culture organisations, as well as individuals, in celebrating and sharing our intangible cultural heritage.

On 26th May 2023, TRACS – together with Museums Galleries Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland and Creative Scotland – hosted a conference at Birnam Arts, featuring keynote speakers in the field, offering a day of discussion, sharing, and coming together.

TRACS Chair and traditional musician Andrew Bachell shares with us his personal reflections of the day:

I recently attended the TRACS conference on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) at the splendid venue of Birnam Arts. The event was run jointly with Museums Galleries Scotland, Creative Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland, the partnership that commissioned the brilliantly crafted report by Steve Byrne on Mapping ICH (2021). Reflecting on the day and on what was said, I found that when in the realm of heritage, you are never far from politics. The old adage, that history is often written by the victors might well apply to the way that heritage is recorded and valued – more’s the pity.

The day began with a reminder of the five domains of ICH defined by UNESCO – covering oral tradition, performance, social practices, knowledge of the natural world and crafts. It seems that in policy terms there is a need for classification, however imperfect, but that it is best used as an aid to thinking and not worn as a straitjacket. We heard about the importance of crafts from Daniel Carpenter of the Heritage Crafts Association and their work in identifying crafts at risk and how that feeds into priorities for intervention. Traditional Crafts will, I hope, become a fourth pillar of TRACS alongside dance, music and storytelling. TRACS is currently looking at getting a fuller picture of the traditional crafts sector by conducting a Traditional Crafts Survey, which asks any traditional makers to respond and share it.

Later, we heard about various projects and works in communities as diverse as those who travelled to Scotland from South Asia in the middle of last century, the settled folk of civil parishes across Scotland, including stories of dressing herring, music collecting, smallpipe making and of the Nawken, resident travellers within the Scottish landscape for at least a millennium. Some of the stories we listened to included recollection of hardship and exclusion, but they all revealed why each community found value in and wanted acceptance of retaining its inherited identity.

We were privileged to have Michelle Stefano from the US Library of Congress to describe their efforts to provide a platform for cultural voice and expression through public folklore. How wonderful it was to hear that each State has an official folklorist. There was speculation that in the USA the processes of dehumanisation, cultural homogenisation and marginalisation of communities are more obvious than they are here, and that inequalities are even seen by some as an appropriate outcome that drives enterprise.

Those thoughts were very generous, but more likely we are no different here in Scotland and the UK, where in truth we still find it hard to come to terms with the colonial past and the consequential displacement of people and cultures. We have done more than enough appropriation of places and artefacts and erasing of the rights and heritage of people worldwide. At the end of a stimulating day, we looked at some of the challenges and opportunities, which were summarised live and in real time by the conference resident artist Sarah Ahmad, aka @floatingdesign in the succinct pictogram.

At various moments there was mention of some very weighty external issues; climate change; displacement and migration; popularist and right-wing governments; the skewing of culture by mass media and news vendors. Such things seemed to magnify the relevance and value of the intangible things that relate to customs, culture, and community; our songs and stories, our gatherings and customs. Such things are not curated by the media and multi-national entertainment corporations, to be packaged and sold as holding the meaning of a fulfilled life. They are the opposite of such control and hold the essence of diversity.

At several points in the day there were deep sighs at the mention of Trumpian politics and its inevitable social conflicts, where the manipulation of differences and the “othering” of whole communities is used as a tool for disagreement and the expression of power. How interesting then, that an exploration of what makes us distinctive may also hold the key to better understand each other too. As one speaker reminded us, we do not live in a melting pot but as a glorious pluralist mix.  With that perspective we have the responsibility to ensure that differences do not mean division. If we can explore, share and understand the many aspects of intangible heritage, difference can become something we celebrate, in an ideal world ……..

So where are we bound? Within the phrase Intangible Cultural Heritage, I find the word “culture” to be a bit superfluous. Another speaker declared some difficulty with the word heritage – and I see his point. Heritage as a concept and in practice has been appropriated by those with the means and power to purloin resources in order to safeguard what is or what has been important to them. Their art, their culture, their buildings. They might have expressed this in terms of the collective “our”, meaning of the nation, so long as that is the nation they recognise; the one framed by the social hierarchy to which they subscribe.

I don’t wish to dismiss those aspects of heritage, but where wealth and entitlement are the sole or dominant means of determining what heritage has value, then heritage itself becomes part of the structure of inequality. The filtering of the past through that process will ensure that what we provide to the future will also reflect that same set of values. With ICH, priorities must be chosen from the community and those that pass on skills and knowledge. We have a real opportunity through ICH to add weight to the processes of democratisation of the heritage industry.

At the meeting I heard two responses to the legacy of heritage politics. The first response is to continue to challenge that legacy. We must seek to show why the culture and customs of all communities are important and why sharing those cultures is one means of harmonising values. Differences not discord. The second response is that we should not wait for the world to change.  As artists, administrators and members of our communities, we should set about exploring the ICH around us, weaving it in to whatever we do, making it important and ensure it fascinates others.

In the past (and most likely in the future) I have engaged in an environmental guerrilla movement – planting trees by stealth, without permission, although with great care about what and where. One day, great oaks may tower over paths and roads where there might have been only chuckies and willow-herb. The same is possible with ICH. As activists we can ensure that the intangible heritage is made evident in all that we do. When eventually Scotland / the UK is a signatory to the UNESCO Convention, if not before, we can be ready to celebrate ICH as an essential ingredient of public policy and support.

News

Feisty Women

Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland is delighted to shine a spotlight on the achievements of women in traditional dance as part of the 10th anniversary of Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival running 3–9 June 2023 at Edinburgh Central Library.
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We curated two unique events as part of the festival programme, entitled Feisty Trad Dance Artists of Ukraine  and Trad Dance Pioneers Past and Present. This is our first collaboration with the festival which in turn is a collaboration between Bonnie Fechters – Edinburgh’s own women’s group, Glasgow Women’s Library and City of Edinburgh Libraries. Every year the festival aims to highlight the important social contribution of women, especially those based in Scotland. This year the theme is feisty women. These are women, past and present, who have faced a challenge and risen to it.
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Feisty Trad Dance Artists of Ukraine
5 June 2pm Edinburgh Central Library
Free Book now via Eventbrite here
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For the first of our festival contributions to Harpies, Fechters and Quines, join us on  to meet two truly feisty women – Oksana Saiapina and Anastasiia Boiko, both originally from Ukraine but now settling in Edinburgh. Enjoy a set of Ukrainian folk dance duets, including  Hoptsa Dritsa, a dance full of humour and cheek, as well as Hutsulska, a dance based on a folk tune with Scottish motifs. Selected and performed by Oksana and Anastasiia, these trad dances of Ukraine culminate into Soul Flower – a choreographed dance, set to live music with lyrics by Diane Golde and composition by Kostyantyn Meladze. See the duo perform Soul Flower to the accompaniment of the Ukrainian Community Choir Oberig led by Karina Cherviakova, creating collaborative magic on stage.

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Oksana and Anastasiia are both fresh from their debut at Scotland’s Pomegranates festival of international traditional dance 28-30 April 2023. Acclaimed as ‘stepping into tiny time capsules, Pomegranates was ‘where each culture’s traditions, passion and personality spread like wildfire, leaving a lasting impression’. Our Pomegranates festival was also where Oksana and Anastasia met, taught and performed for the first time together. Watch them teach at Pomegranates workshops.
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After sowing the Pomegranates seeds and sequins this spring, we caught up with the two dance artists and Oberig choir leader. First  up, Oksana Saiapina said:
I am a teacher of Ukrainian folk dances. I fled Ukraine in the summer 2022 and settled in Edinburgh where I now teach. Back home, I worked for more than 15 years in a dance studio with children aged 3 to 15 years. The group under my leadership took part in international festivals winning many high-level competition awards. I am delighted to perform as part of the Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival, so soon after my debut at Pomegranates.”
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Anastasiia Boiko said:
“I have been dancing since I was three years old, including ballroom, Ukrainian, folk, modern, historical folk dances…This year I will graduate from Serge Lyfar Kyiv Municipal Academy of Dance in Ukraine. Currently, I am based in Edinburgh and teach Ukrainian dances for children at the Ukrainian Community Centre (AUGB Edinburgh). I am really looking forward to my festival participation at the Harpies, Fechters and Quines, following the great start at Pomegranates”
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Karina Cherviakova, professional singer and conductor, said:

“We are honoured to support the two dancers Oksana and Anastasiia with members of Oberig Choir at Harpies, Fechters and Quines festival. This is our first collaboration with Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland and we are already planning our next. Although our choir was reinvented under the new name of Oberig (meaning ‘talisman’ in Ukrainian) in November 2022, it was established by Ukrainian emigrants who came to Edinburgh after the Second World War. Some of the founding members are still performing with us and we remain open for new members.”

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Trad Dance Pioneers Past and Present 
7 June 1pm Edinburgh Central Library
Free. Book now via Eventbrite HERE
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For the second of our festival contributions join us for the launch of our new Trad Dance Cast episode being produced especially for the 10th anniversary of the Harpies, Fechters and Quines festival. This podcast episode is dedicated to the pioneering dance artists from Scotland and beyond since 1805 till today, including Margaret Belford, Patricia Ballantyne, Ysobel Stewart, Jean Milligan, Natasha Khamjani and Kerry Fletcher.

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Join us for an afternoon of trad dance on stage and screen. Meet and hear from the Trad Dance Cast podcast presenter Eleanor Sinclair, a trad dance artist-activist and Margaret Belford, the legendary leader of the Edinburgh branch of the UK-wide Society for International Folk Dancing. See traditional costumes handcrafted by Margaret, herself. Enjoy a set of Ukrainian traditional dances presented by the new generations of performers, including Oksana Saiapina and Anastasiia Boiko.

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At the end, watch our short dance film To Begin the Dance Once More (Dir. Marlene Millar, 2023). Launched as part of our Pomegranates Premieres night, the film follows the climate refugees Beira, Isis and Bride, named after ancient mother and daughter deities of Scotland and Egypt. The dance film creatively reenacts the female creation myths visibly inscribed in the water cycles dominating the landscape around us – from the floodplains of the Nile in Egypt to the sea lochs of Scotland.

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It is time to celebrate the role of women as tradition keepers and dance innovators in our contemporary world. In the meantime, do check our first episode entitled To Begin the Dance Once More which features interviews with five artists, including film director Marlene Millar and curators Iliyana Nedkova and Wendy Timmons.

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If Pomegranates festival demonstrated there’s more to traditional dance forms than meets the eye, we believe that our contribution to Harpies, Fechters and Quines festival will transcend the differences between cultures and genders and embrace the commonalities shared through the joyful explosion of folkloric echoes in our contemporary world.

Harpies, Fechters and Quines festival programme at Edinburgh Central Library runs 3-9 June 2023. See the festival Eventbrite page for details of all events taking place. These are free events for adults aged 18+ years. 

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Images of Pomegranates festival workshops featuring Oksana Saiapina and Anastasiia Boiko. Images courtesy of Wangxiu Cheng and Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland. 

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Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland events at Harpies, Fechters and Quines festival were curated by Iliyana Nedkova and Wendy Timmons with the invaluable curatorial assistance of Cecylia O’May, Barrie Barretto, Olena Singh, Karina Cherviakova, Colin Mclellan, Karen O’Brien, Iain Duffus and all at Bonnie Fechters Edinburgh Group

News

Thisles and Sunflowers Dance Fusion

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Once upon a time Edinburgh was struck by an awful pandemic and all theatres laid empty. Alexis and Ariana dreamed of dancing together on the stage. But they had to wait for their dream to come true until the theatres opened their doors for the first time since lockdown. The two dancers from the lands of thistles and sunflowers were finally reunited. Surrounded by dreamy landscapes and accompanied by a piper, they danced together for an in-person, socially-distanced audience.


See a dance segment from the launch of this initial Thistles and Sunflowers duet as part of the Thistles, Sunflowers and Dreamscapes an Edinburgh Fringe Festival solo exhibition by Diana Savova.

Building on their first momentous encounter in the hot, face-masked summer of 2021, Scottish Highland dancer Alexis Street and Bulgarian folk dancer Ariana Stoyanova developed and choreographed their initial pandemic duet into a fusion show which marked the finale of the Thistles and Sunflowers inaugural festival weekend on 29 May 2022 – an integral part of the Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022.

Find out more about the origins of Thistles and Sunflowers duet by tuning into these two interviews with Alexis and Ariana, lliyana Nedkova and Wendy Timmons

 

A year later, the Pomegranates Festival opening night on 28 April 2023 enabled Alexis and Ariana to revive, present and perform their extended version of the Thistles and Sunflowers show as a series of newly choreographed solos, duets and ensemble pieces drawing on the parallels between Scottish and Bulgarian folk dance traditions, regional variations and stories with live music accompaniment by Tsvetelina Likova (harp) and Robert Burns (bagpipe).

See the edited highlights of the Thistles and Sunflowers show as part of the Pomegranates Triple Bill and read the four-star review by WJQuins of The Quinntessential Review.

 

REVIEW

“A fitting choice to close the opening night of the Pomegranates Festival 2023, the result is an ambiable, gently choreographed international dance battle. No shade is thrown, only affection. Moreover, it’s fascinating to see how the music, and dance of two cultures shaped by the bagpipes both resemble, and diverge from, each other. The Highland tradition, built on precision and agility contrasted with the complex footwork and subtly rhythmic Bulgarian discipline certainly attracts one’s attentions shoe-wards. Of course in the end dance is a common language, and so Stoyanova & Street’s choreography ultimately sees the assembled dancers settle into a series of interwoven progressions. Paired with their ‘opposite’ numbers and dancing to a blended rhythm, the result is an uplifting and merrily synergistic finale!”
**** The Quinntessential Review

CAST
Dancers: Ariana Stoyanova, Alexis Street, Desislava Davidkova, Vesela Pandezova, Callie, Laris and Abbie
Musicians: Robert Burns and Tsvetelina Likova

CREW
Choreographers: Ariana Stoyanova and Alexis Street
Composer/Arranger: Tsvetelina Likova
Curators/Producers: Wendy Timmons, Iliyana Nedkova, Daniela Dimova-Yaneva and Eleanor Sinclair
Videographer: Barrie Barretto
Stage lights and sound: Roddy Simpson
Curatorial support: Daniel Abercrombie, Wangxiu Cheng, Ziqing Yin and Yan Hong

CREDITS
Co-commissioned and produced by the Bulgarian Cultural and Educational Centre Scotland in partnership with the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland. The world premiere at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on 29 May 2022 was one of the highlights of Thistles and Sunflowers Festival as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022. The dance fusion was revived, performed and recorded on 28 April 2023 as part of the Triple Bill at the Pomegranates Festival of International Traditional Dance. Initial research funding was provided as part of Thistles and Sunflowers Festival by Tasgadh Fund for Traditional Arts devolved from Creative Scotland and managed by Fèisean nan Gàidheal.

#pomegranates
#thitlesandsunflowers

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Words by Iliyana Nedkova. Images courtesy of Barrie Barretto, Anna Dobreva and Kaloyan Bukovski

News

The Last Leaf on Earth

What would happen if there was only one leaf left on our planet? What would be the fate of the last remaining leaf? How fragile is our life compared to the power of nature?

These are just some of the questions at the heart of Yuxi Jiang’s new choreography entitled The Last Leaf on Earth. Based on an ancient Chinese folk dance, it is devised for Scottish and Chinese performers with costumes designed by Natalia Zhang. The lead dancer is Jorja Follina and live music by Toraigh Watson. The Shadow dances are performed by Wangxiu Cheng, Yan Hong, Qing Ji, Ziyun Li, Yujiao Miao, Huting Shi, Qiaoqiao Xia, Ziwei Yang, Ziqing Yin, Qianru Lin, Zingyuan Ma, Qinyuan Wang and Ziuan Li.

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What does the last leaf look like? Could that be the ginkgo leaf, uniquely shaped as the traditional Chinese classical dance fan, that is in the spotlight in this urgent piece. The ginkgo tree was one of the only species that survived the 1945 nuclear bomb blast in Hiroshima, although sadly it is now threatened with extinction. Native to China, the ginkgo tree and its seeds are also safeguarded in the collection of the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh – another reason to raise the awareness of this survivor as a symbol of peace, environmental and nuclear justice in our city.

How did Yuxi embark on this journey of exploring the delicate balance between chaos and order, blending contemporary expression with traditional dance culture?

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Well, we believe that the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland has contributed along the way.

Firstly, by casting Yuxi in the role of the climate refugee Bride, named after the daughter of Beira, Scotland’s old mother deity. Bride starred in our two new climate change choreographies for the stage and screen, entitled To Begin the Dance Once More and Dances with Ouds and Fiddles. Launched as part of our Pomegranates Premieres night, they both creatively reenact the mother and daughter origin stories of our planet Earth. The female creation myths visibly inscribed in the water cycles dominating the landscape around us – from the floodplains of the Nile in Egypt to the sea lochs of Scotland.

Catch the edited recording of the world premiere of Dances with Ouds and Fiddles and keep an eye for To Begin the Dance Once More on a film festival near you.

 

Secondly, alongside our festival partners at Hidden Door, Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland co-commissioned The New Leaf on Earth. As part of the new choreographic process, we enabled Yuxi to start her research by reviving Wish Upon a Falling Star – an award-winning solo based on Chinese folk dance which she performed for the first time in Scotland as part of our Pomegranates Triple Bill. It provided not only a powerful start to our Pomegranates festival weekend but also a “fascinating opening to the night” of the triple bill receiving the four-star critical acclaim of WJ Quinn at The Quinntessential Review, who went on to say:

Yuxi Jiang is a spry, and capable dancer, her choreography dynamic and eye-catching. There’s more than a little theatre to this performance, a sense of a character on a journey. Indeed she made full use of the compact stage in the Netherbow Theatre, as she progressed to a whirling, sweeping conclusion. It will be truly fascinating to see how this work contributes to the larger show being developed.

Likewise, we are looking forward to seeing how Yuxi’s choreography will take roots in the dark forest environment of the Hidden Door Festival. How would we feel at witnessing the last leaf falling and what could we do to restore our fragile connection with the natural world?

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The Last Leaf on Earth runs on a loop 31 May – 4 June 2023 daily at 7pm, 8pm, 9pm and 10pm at the Hidden Door festival hub known as the Complex on Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh as part of their performance strand called Environments, set in a series of ex-office building spaces transformed into mountains, wastelands, forests and gardens, as well as the sea bed and the centre of the Earth. Further details on the Hidden Door Festival website here

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Images by Wangxiu Cheng. Courtesy the artist.

Words by Iliyana Nedkova

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Pomegranates Workshops and Promenade

Review by Inesa Vėlavičiūtė

A tribute to UNESCO’s International Dance Day and as part of Edinburgh’s Tradfest, the Pomegranates festival  premiered in 2022, celebrating traditional dances from around the world and explored their connections to contemporary hip-hop. Curated by the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland, a varied and inspiring programme was put together for the festival’s second edition this year, opening the festival weekend on 28 April 2023 with a dozen of thrilling dance workshops at St. Leonard’s Dance Studio, the University of Edinburgh. For those unable to attend in person, the livestream access worldwide enabled more happy feet to join in the fun.

Keeping the energy high throughout the day and an appetite for cross-cultural engagement, the participants found themselves in a rhythmic wonderland of 12 vibrant folk dances and melodies spanning almost all continents: Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Wrapped in superb live music by the resident trad musicians Jon Bews (fiddle), Bernie Hewitt (accordion) and Nemo Ganguli (drums), the workshops invited dance practitioners and enthusiasts to embark on a rich movement journey, the unique aspects of which were captured on paper by the charcoal sketch virtuoso Gabriel Schmitz.

Led by over 30 local and international dance artists and choreographers based in Scotland, the event offered an opportunity to learn and appreciate their dances’ diverse cultural backgrounds as well as the historical, geographical and religious contexts they exist in. The introductions also reviewed how these affected the development of each dance and their evolving place within modern societies. After all, just as one would not understand a foreign language simply because it is human speech, one should not expect to understand foreign dance without some “translation”.

The explained and demonstrated basic dance steps and patterns gave the attendees a well-crafted gateway to experiencing each dance’s rhythmic qualities. Playing with the principles of movement, the participants explored many forms of folk dance art, including solo, couple and group routines, drawing parallels between the kinetic language of each, the stories they told and the social interactions they encompassed. The line-up showcased throughout the day included the following:

Old Time dances, Scotland with Pia Walker and Bernie Hewitt (accordion)

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Rapper Sword Dance, Northern England with Kev Kev Theaker, Trina McKendrick, Neil Dawson, Tom Dight, Dot Lawrenson and Grace Emery (violin) of Mons Meg Rapper, Edinburgh

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Ukrainian folk dance with Oksana Saiapina and Anastasiia Boiko

 

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Romanian folk dance with Colin Mclennan and Bernie Hewitt (accordion)

 

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Pizzica Pizzica dance, Southern Italy with Lara Russo and Michela Furin (also tambourine) of Italian Folk Connections, Edinburgh

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Mongolian Chopstick dance with Yifeng Zhu

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Romani Gypsy dance, Poland with Sonia Michalewicz (also vocals), Malwina Siwak, Kasia Siwak and Blanka Michalewicz of Romane Cierhenia, Glasgow

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Indian Classical Bharatnatyam dance with Oxana Banshikova and Sahana Lakshmi Venkatesh (vocals) of Cosmic Dance, Edinburgh

 

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The Bon dance, Japan with Heather Rikic and Junko Inaba

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Yankadi dance, Zambia with Chinyanta Kabaso and Nemo Ganguli (drums)

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Costa Rican traditional dance with Marianella Desanti of DansEd, the University of Edinburgh

 

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Hip hop with Congolese roots with Kemono L Riot and Nemo Ganguli (drums)

Maintaining a focus on the interplay and subtleties of the expertly processed movements and the organic synchronicity based on rhythmic stepping, the Rapper Sword dance and dances from Ukraine and Romania dazzled with their technique of the intricate footwork and the breath-taking vigour of the dancer’s body at work. Other energetic dances with stylised footwork and infectious energy included Yankadi dance from Zambia, Romani Gypsy and Costa Rican traditional dances. Explosive, playful and sensual, they delivered a stream of intensely expressive sensations, deepening the body and mind’s ability to tune into micro-moments of wild harmony, the ebb and flow of the movements. Though choreographed, they felt spontaneous at the same time.

The Southern Italian tarantella also appeared to be part-improvised and free from rigidity, allowing imperfection to be part of the dance. Given the freedom of movement to respond to the beat, the participants took part in a healing and euphoric ritual of dancing in and within a circle. A real firecracker of the day, the workshop was complete with tambourine percussion and frenzied clapping.

The partner/couple dancing and partner exchange also featured in the Old Time Scottish, Ukrainian folk and Costa Rican traditional dances. The remarkable preservation of an ancient cultural and spiritual way of life was also revealed in the hypnotic Indian classical dance, delivering cathartic storytelling through movement and its symbolism. The slowly unfolding dramatic narrative spoke to humanity’s intrinsic need to bond with nature and the gods. The mystical beauty of this one-woman dance had a meditative quality to it, with the soothing and exhilarating sounds of the ankle bells and compelling singing enhancing the experience.

Another relatively slow dance with its elegant, dreamlike movements and balletic grace took the participants to the Mongolian steppes. The intriguing dance prop of the four red chopsticks tied together with a flag brought out the detail in the dance figures, so subtle yet so impactful. The workshop leader also encouraged everyone to be creative with how they used and interacted with the space when moving around. The Bon dance, popular within seasonal dance festivals and celebrations in Japan, was also performed unhurriedly, at a steady pace. It got people in sync, moving to the rhythm in perfect unison, sharing joy and bonding through a collective experience.

A perfect day’s finale – blurring the lines between contemporary hip-hop and its Congolese roots, the charismatic hip hop artist-in-residence Kemono L Riot inspired the dancers to enjoy the moment in the flow and fluidity of the dance. His sparkling energy created a communal dance party, thrumming with uplifting vitality and beaming smiles. He also fashioned a unique and visually stunning display of artistic expression by dipping into various dance traditions and fusing them with funky hip-hop rhythms and rhymes from the poet-in-residence Ian McMillan used throughout the promenade performance at the end of the festival. Showcasing an extravaganza of captivating dance steps and colourful costumes, all these phenomenal dancers came together on stage, inviting the audience to appreciate the diversity and beauty of their craft, as well as the friendship, connectivity and togetherness shared throughout the three days. Accompanied by the beats of a guest drummer Nemo Ganguli, the production’s execution was fantastic, creating collaborative magic on stage.

A joyful explosion of folkloric echoes in our contemporary world, the Pomegranates festival demonstrated there’s more to traditional dance forms than meets the eye. The workshops transcended the differences between cultures, embracing the commonalities shared through dance instead – from healing and religious rituals, through theatrical entertainment, to death ceremonies and ancestor worship. Engaging in these dances felt like stepping into tiny time capsules, where each culture’s traditions, passion and personality spread like wildfire, leaving a lasting impression.

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Inesa Vėlavičiūtė is a translator, English Language tutor as well as visual theatre and puppetry critic. Currently, she is a Restorative Justice Development Officer at Community Justice Scotland.
Follow Inesa on Twitter @IVelaviciute
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Images courtesy of Wangxiu Cheng, Ziqing Yin, Inesa Vėlavičiūtė and Yan Hong

Editorial support by Iliyana Nedkova

 

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