(See our other photos from the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod 2009)
It was suggested that the girls in B.R.I.D.E. would benefit from a visit to the Llangollen Eisteddfod, to see at first hand how children
from other countries dance. The Eisteddfod was established in 1947 by volunteers to promote peace and goodwill between
nations through music and dance, and has become one of the world's great festivals.
We toyed with the idea and then decided that if we were going to go we may as well try and participate. The first hurdle was ensuring that enough of the parents and children would commit themselves if we got accepted; the next would be getting accepted. The rules immediately disqualified our best dancer as she would be sixteen by the time of the Eisteddfod but there were still enough girls and she could be our flag bearer. Of course, as they are English children living in Sussex they had to perform English dances. We chose Sussex Cottage and The Hop Pickers Feast from our region and also Jenny Pluck Pears. So we made the video and sent it off. Judges and scores were secondary in this adventure, we just aimed to enjoy being there hoping to make new friends and watch the entrants from other countries.
Much to our surprise (or at least of the adults who had a good idea of the competition we faced), we were accepted. We then learned that those children aged fifteen and over on the day of the competition would now also be ineligible as they had lowered the age limit for 2009 by a year. As a result we lost two more good dancers, but as by then we had been accepted we decided to go ahead anyway; favourite dances for eight were ruled out and dances for six introduced (we are only a small group). We also discovered that we had to dance to live music....
Musicians were our problem, or rather the lack of them; we had only one, our percussionist, James. One of the older
girls (disqualified by old age from dancing) volunteered to play the melodica, but was soon overcome by the scale of the
task and withdrew from the lists. Then one of the mothers unexpectedly announced that she too could play the melodica,
and the piano, and the saxophone, and the clarinet and also the recorder - we opted for the recorder as it is definitely
a traditional instrument. In an attempt to support our duo, Janet taught herself to play a couple of easy bits on the
melodica. Although her efforts were not wholeheartedly received by the girls at first; they enjoyed giving advice on how
to improve, and also suggested she cue them in to new figures by 'playing' tambourine.
Costumes became the next job needing to be tackled. We already had replica 19th Century pinafores, which were worn over mid
length skirts, but they weren't really right for this job. So, after careful research (and a grant from Arun District Council)
the girls ended up with late 17th or early 18th Century costumes as worn by the middling classes.
There followed months of the practises with a pre-view performance at the Chichester Mayfest. All the preparations were made, and so we will skip to...
Eventually July came round and a small convoy of cars proceeded north to Wales, amazingly enough getting there more or
less as planned in time for the 'Parade of Nations'. This leads from the festival grounds over the famous stone bridge and through the
streets of Llangollen. We paraded through the town amid a kaleidoscope of colourful costumes, flags, music, singing and
dancing. Some of the girls rated this as the best part of the Llangollen experience. The youngest girls were quite taken by the fact
that the council had closed all the roads just so people could see them.
The following day, we watched groups from other countries sing and dance around the field and had a rehearsal in the Competitors Club. A last minute hitch meant that one of the team would not arrive until the morning of the competition (the next day) and thus the reserve had to rehearse in front of the other competitors. In the evening, four of the older girls took part in the Peace Concert and had a first taste of appearing on the Pavilion stage.
The day of our competition dawned (with more sunshine than the previous two days) and we assembled backstage for our performance. Everything went more or less according to plan (despite mislaying the youngest child for an anxious 5 minutes - at 7 one of the youngest competitors there) and we were quite pleased with our efforts. However, the competition was fierce and, although our marks were respectable (at 77 only 2 below the next group), we were outclassed by experienced dancers well versed in stage craft who were supported by extremely professional musicians. However we felt that merely having got through to the competition was achievement enough. The Indian dancers were favourites with many of us in their colourful costumes and contagious joy.
As we were one of the few children's groups wandering around in costume, the children were also much in demand for TV appearances as 'props' for local dignitaries, though, naturally they never got to see themselves on television.
Llangollen is a picturesque town by the River Dee, spanned by the ancient stone bridge. It is surrounded by mountains and overlooked by the old Castell Dinas Bran. Some of the children enjoyed a ride on a canal barge drawn by a horse. There are many tourist attractions nearby including one place we enjoyed visiting - the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
It was a wonderful experience and well worth all the effort it took to get there and be part of it. The main reaction from our dancers was "We must go again next year!" But as next year we will be busy preparing for another Royal Albert Hall show, another trip to Llangollen will have to wait for the time being.