The Azores 2007

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At the invitation of CIOFF, the latest foray abroad by Hexham Morris Dancers has been to gladden the eye and conquer the hearts of the Azorean people.
When you tell people you are going to the Azores their reply is usually something along the lines of, “Is that near the Falklands” or “Is that somewhere near Norway.” In fact The Azores are a cluster of volcanic peaks rising out of the mid-Atlantic ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates move apart. None of their cones are belching lava at present, though the slumbering underground forces are revealed by jets of steam rising from the ground in several locations.

As you would expect in a place so close to the tropics, the climate is warm most of the year. But even in mid-summer, the sun isn’t too oppressive, as gentle Atlantic breezes give relief from the heat, as well as bringing occasional light showers which keep the islands beautifully green throughout the year. The beaches are pleasant and uncrowded, while snorkelling, whale-watching and a variety of other aquatic activities are on offer for the more adventurous. Inland, there are interesting historic sites to visit, and a wide choice of pleasant places to sample the local food and drink specialities. For those who enjoy dancing and partying, there are plenty of sociable venues. The local inhabitants are very friendly, and many speak excellent English. All in all, it’s an ideal place for a holiday - or for a folk festival.

Several enjoyable daytime trips were laid on by our Azorian hosts, for the visiting dance teams. These included Finnish, German, Mexican, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, and Venezuelan ensembles as well as the Hexham contingent. However, it was the evening street parades and stage performances - and the multi-national partying afterwards - which provided the real highlights of the week.

Of course some stress was involved in these events. The Hexham team knew beforehand that standards would be high, since many of the other troupes were composed of full-time professionals, or music and dance students who hoped to turn professional after graduation. The spectacular shows they put on throughout the week hammered this point home. It’s hardly surprising that performing alongside them in the festival’s closing concert - watched by a two thousand strong crowd and a much larger TV audience - awakened butterflies in a few tummies. Nevertheless, Hexham’s hard-working part-timers earned an enthusiastic ovation from the spectators that night, just as they had done in all their previous performances during the festival. The quality of their shows was also praised by many members of the other visiting teams.

A long-standing connection between Britain and the Azores was renewed during the visit. Elaine Carter of Corbridge arrived with some photographs taken by - and of - her father while he was serving at the RAF base there during World War Two. By showing these pictures to a number of local inhabitants, Elaine was able to find the places at which they had been taken. This was an emotional moment for Elaine. But there was one emotion which united everyone who took part in the festival – a love for the group of islands on which it was held.
As usually happens at these festivals, international friendships blossomed during the week. Gifts and addresses were exchanged, and plans were made to meet again at similar events in the future.

Design: TalkingHat Associates