California Revels Dances Again
September 5, 2012 in Uncategorized
On Monday afternoon of the Labor Day Weekend, the California Revels were held at Joaquin Miller Park in Berkeley California. The festivities included live music, Morris dancing, country dancing and culminated in the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.
The California Revels are part of a larger organization known simply as “The Revels”. John Longstaff, a professional concert singer had a deep love with the Christmas carols of his youth, and later the folk tunes that he collected throughout his career. Eventually he came to see that those songs were part of a larger circle of celebration and ritual which harkened back all the way to Paganism and the celebrations and rituals around the seasons and the Earth. He wanted to bring that confluence of song, dance, and celebration to a place where everyone could share in and celebrate with him rather than simply performing individual pieces. Thus the Revels were born. As time goes on more and more groups join the Revels in various areas presenting, performing and teaching the songs and dances that create ritual.
California Revels seeks to foster the health of the human spirit through a rich array of performing arts programs. We promote the celebratory and community-building power of the performing arts by presenting a unique and innovative form of Music Theater that embraces diverse audiences.
Since 1986, California Revels has brought the unique theatrical, participatory arts-form founded by singer, author and music educator John Langstaff in Cambridge, Massachusetts, more than twenty-five years ago to the audiences of the Bay Area. Crossing religious and ethnic boundaries and appealing to young and old alike, Revels blends traditional music, dance, ritual and folk plays, presented by a large volunteer chorus of children and adults drawn from the community, and a number of highly talented professional actors, musicians, artists, directors, and “bearers of tradition” from many cultures. Highlighting a particular culture and period, from a medieval English court to an Appalachian homestead in Kentucky, from a Russian village to the land of the midnight sun, Revels employs traditional materials and seasonal rituals to draw the audience into a magical revelry of song and dance.(1)
This year the Revels included the sharing of live music, and the teaching of country dancing and the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, as well as picnicking in the park. The Abbots Bromley Horn dance is of unknown origin. Though the current sets of antlers used at Abbots Bromley have been carbon dated to the twelfth century, it is posited that they were replacements for much older sets. Since the reindeer were extinct in England by that time, it is my opinion that those horns must have come from far away and the dance must have been of sufficient importance in the area to go to the trouble of procuring them. After all one could not simply go to a browser and Google “Ten sets of reindeer antlers, in good condition” and hope for cheap shipping costs. Whatever the origins of the dance, the magical intent of the hunt is clear in the fact that the original dance, performed at Abbots Bromley includes a hunter and “hobby” horse (which actually looks like the child’s stick horse today, though carved not stuffed), a jestor and a Maid Marion for Robin of the Woods.
It was held this year on what the organizers refer to as Wakes Monday. Once again, though the origins of this holiday are lost to antiquity,
…in Derbyshire at least it is commonly held that it dates back to pagan times. During the Industrial Revolution the tradition of the wakes was adapted into a regular summer holiday particularly, but not exclusively, in the north of England and industrialised areas of the Midlands where each locality would nominate a wakes week during which the industries would close down for a week. The wakes holiday was an unpaid holiday when the mills and factories were closed for maintenance.(2)
Today where it is still practiced, it has taken on the flavor of our own Labor Day celebrations and seems a fitting analogy.
The Greater Bay Area of California has long been a supporter of such events with many troupes of Morris Dancers bringing in the May each year, the Dickens Faire and much more. At a guess I would say that the cross pollination for such groups and group events helps this type of artistic endeavor flourish here in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Fremont and San Jose California. We are blessed with an extraordinary array of musicians and dancers that always help to flesh out such events and Monday was certainly no different. It was a perfect day in all respects, with good company, good music and camaraderie, and joyful dance topped by temperate weather. No one could have asked for a better way to spend the day and I highly recommend that you attend next year if at all possible.
(1) About Revels: A Collection of Essays Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer, Editor and Compiler
(2) Wikipedia Wakes Week Article