Folkloriada, Tokyo 2000

The Hexham Morrismen and their sister team the Hexhamshire Lasses comprised a party of 30 performers who travelled to Tokyo to represent the UK at the biggest folk dance festival in the world.

The International Folkloriada 2000 held at the end of July was organised by the Conseil International des Organisations de Festival Folklorique (CIOFF), part of UNESCO's programme for peace.

We travelled to Japan in good spirits even though some of the team were double booked on the plane and had to transfer via Copenhagen to Frankfurt to Tokyo and arrived 12 hours later than everyone else.  We arrived in Tokyo fairly worn out but were delighted with our unexpected 5 star hotel accommodation.  Fortunately we had a couple of days of rest and relaxation before we were required to perform.

The Opening Ceremony

We had been briefed to make a flag and perform a 4 minute spot at the ceremony; apart from that we weren’t sure about what was happening.  The day before we arrived at the television studio and were ushered into a small hall with 20 or so technicians, producers, directors etc. and we rehearsed our spot.  I think that gave us a clue we were on for something big.  The next day we hung around the television centre as all the teams walked through their routines.  We thought that all 65 countries would be performing at the ceremony but it soon became apparent that we had been selected to perform with a dozen or so other countries and the others were ushered onto a stepped rostrum at the back of the stage.  That evening we performed live on Japanese national television, wow, what an experience.

Street Performances

After all the excitement of dancing on national TV we were fairly relaxed about our next spots.  At last we were dancing in the streets and gathering crowds.  This was an area where we were very comfortable: we were performing on our own terms: Hexham market place or Tokyo City Centre what’s the difference?  The answer was a lot.  First Hexham doesn’t reach 38C in the shade with 85% humidity.  Anyway with the protection the top hats and straw boaters the heat wasn’t too unbearable and we managed a vigorous performance.

Our first spot was in a shop frontage and it was the size of your average postage stamp with a rose bush in the middle.  Morris dancing was out of the question so we resorted to Hexham Rapper, some clogging and a solo jig. The next spot was on the footpath outside a large superstore.  This was fine and we performed well.

After a long walk through the back alleys of Tokyo we reached the next spot (some dance teams complained about all the walking in the blistering heat but Hexham accepted the challenge and rose to the occasion, and loved the oriental culture).  The next spot was outside a large theatre and we performed our best material here.  By now we were very tired and hot but we recuperated in our 5 star hotel and then relaxed in a small Japanese bar.

Shibuya Hall

After the exertions of dancing in the heat and humidity we were back into a controlled climate but with the pressure of performing on national TV again.   After a day of dress rehearsals and hanging about the studio we eventually performed that evening on prime TV.   We followed the highly acrobatic Ukrainian team.  Obviously we weren’t as vigorous (our average age being 40 something compared to the professional Ukraians who were about 16) but as I said earlier we made up for this in style and enthusiasm.  We gave a good and varied performance, which included Cotswold Morris, Garland, Clogging, Rapper and Border Dances.  I think the audience found us a light relief after the usual perfect eastern block style of dancing.

That night we retreated to a small bar in the back streets of Tokyo where we put on a performance for the general public.  This involved a music session, clogging and rapper and solo jigs.  The locals were amazed and delighted and so were we as they bought us a couple of beers, which were extremely expensive.  We all signed a Hexham Morris tee shirt which now adorns the wall of the bar among shirts from other sporting dignitaries which included the All Blacks.

The Eggman Night Club

At the festival the Olympic Park had a stall for all of the countries to display crafts from their area.  Saturday was our day off but we decided to dance in front of our stall.   This was wonderful as it allowed us to mix with the other countries that were doing the same.  That night we danced a 40 minute performance in the Eggman Night club.

Our Last Day

This was a procession to beat all processions.  65 countries plus local teams.  The procession started with speeches and Tiako drumming.  We all headed off from Olympic Park into downtown Shibuya and then retraced our steps along the same route.  This meant that we saw every country as we passed by.  There were over 2000 participants and it was a truly amazing scene.  We arrived back in the Olympic Park to a long evening of Tiako drumming and partying to the small hours.

During the festival we got to know the countries who we shared spots with.  It was like no festival we have ever been to, or are likely to go to again.  It was full of contrasts: live TV to shop doorway, small nightclub to massive concert hall, the chill of the air-conditioned buildings to searing heat.

We had a brilliant time in Tokyo and received good reports on our contribution.  We are a team of willing amateurs performing against some of the best professional teams from all over the world.  However we performed with vigour and enthusiasm where many of the professional teams were going through a routine of their day’s work.  So what we lacked in gymnastic ability we made up with genuine enthusiasm.  The scale of the festival was massive and the Japanese deserve congratulating on putting it together.  65 countries were represented.

All in all it was an amazing experience and our young members will live with this incredible memory.  The next time any of them gets the usual taunt from one of their school friends they can reply, ”Oh have your ever danced in Tokyo, and what did you do for your holidays?”

Home or Holiday

About half of the party left for home the following day.  The other half stayed for an additional week and toured Japan.  Some went to Hokkaido, others to Hiroshima.  We travelled with the Tabbush’s to a small island called Sado Gashima of the north coast in the Sea of Japan.  We stayed in youth hostels on the island.  One evening we played outside under the starlight to the other hostellers and some locals.  Next morning they asked if we could play at a local nursery school.  We were delighted to oblige.  When we got to the school we were met by the local TV station and interviewed.  We taught the children dances and songs and performed music.  The children were enthralled by the performance, and guess what, we were back on TV again!

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