Fer Lyskerrys & The Vital Spark

Dynnergh! Welcome!

Let’s begin at the beginning … the beginning of The Vital Spark, that is (which is probably some way from the real beginning, and a very long way from the end) ...

Shortly before Kemysk Cornish Dancers headed out to Lorient Interceltic Festival in 2010, we danced out for the first time for an invited audience of 40 or 50 up at St Clether Barn to raise money for the church organ, and to help fellow dancer, Gemma Kempthorne to promote the space as a new community venue.  I was really lucky to be introduced to Lois Taylor, an inspirational contemporary dance artist, and we began talking about the possibility for doing some Cornish dance in Liskeard in the not-too-distant future.

Sometime after the festival season, Lois dropped in for coffee and a chat about a potential project inspired by the Cornish dances she’d seen up at St Clether Barn, and how the stepping had made her think about the way in which the needles of a sewing machine moved up and down.  Could we translate a Cornish dance into a piece of needlework?

Could it spark some creative dance...? And what about sparking some music, and prose...and...and ... and could it perhaps spark some energy into the weary market town of Liskeard, bringing in an extra visitor or two to shop and  be part of whatever would come to be ...?

We chatted about the possible Cornish dances that we could use, and how we could get artists to scribe the dance, and take the artwork to sewing groups to make cushions, and to spark interpretations of the dance and the music with contemporary dancers, writers and  musicians, culminating in some kind of celebration event ... and we settled on the dance ‘Fer Lyskerrys’ - that’s Cornish for ‘Liskeard Fair’ as the natural choice sometime in March (St Piran’s time) – ideal for dancing, feasting and  enjoying fine cider and  ale!

So, while Lois pulled the creative, promotional and  logistic strands of the Vital Spark together with support from FEAST, I scheduled a series of 6 fortnightly Cornish dance workshops on Saturday mornings before the footie (my husband and son are PAFC fans), designed for participants to have some ‘foot stomping fun with Cornish dance’, and to learn the Fer Lyskerrys dance.
And so, the Vital Spark Festival set out on it's journey into the unknown...

A Potted History of the Cornish dance, Fer Lyskerrys

The story behind Fer Lyskerrys – Liskeard Fair - comes from documents describing the feast days, such as St Matthew’s Fair in Liskeard, where there were processions with musicians begging for cider or beer and ‘dances taking place on the green’.

The original Fer Lyskerrys tune was collected in the late 1890’s, with an extra couple of bars to the regular 16/32 format found in the processional furry dances.  As there was ‘dancing on the green’, this dance could have originally been in a stationary set, rather than furry dance style. I picked up Fer Lyskerrys with traditional Cornish dance group, Asteveryn, which was danced as a square set, similar to the Quadrilles, which were popular in stately homes in the late 19th century, with those extra 2 bars removed, and  I recall hearing of a few variations in the form of the dance, depending on which dance group you were with.

The full history of Fer Lyskerrys is well documented in an-daras.com, including the dance notation for Fer Lyskerrys with the format without those 2 extra bars.  It can also be found in the excellent book by Merv, Alison and  Jowdy Davey, ‘Scoot Dances, Troyls, Furrys and Tea Treats: The Cornish Dance Tradition’ published by Francis Boutle – the Book Shop in Liskeard can get a copy for you if they’ve none left on the shelves (or if you’re not in the Liskeard area, drop into your local bookshop and  ask for a copy to be ordered for you).

The Workshops

The first Cornish dance workshop in the Vital Spark series was run as a very special session at the Liskerrett Centre (a former school with plenty of natural light in the main hall), with music provided by Corncrow’s Steve Hunt on bouzouki, and Pentorr’s Martin Jump and Will Manley on mandolin and fiddle, with half a dozen artists scribing the Fer Lyskerrys dance.

The dancers included complete novices to Cornish folk dance from Liskeard and  the surrounding area, some of the original Polperro crew (that’s a story for another day ...), contemporary dancers, writers, singers and  musicians (who would later form into the Liskeard Street Band).

After a few simple ‘warm up’ Cornish social dances, we began to learn ‘Fer Lyskerrys’.  To help the dancers remember the first part of the dance, these words appeared ...

"Hello neighbours, how’re you doing?We’re doing fine, how about you?On the wheel at Fer LyskerrysRound and  round and  round we go”

...and into the Celtic cross...hold it there, tops to the band and  back, turn your partner, sides to the door and  back, turn your partner...and ladies chain ... and breathe (thanks for those 2 extra bars!).

Some folks (like me) find it easier to remember how a dance goes if you’re not trying to count or figure out your left from your right.

We kept in the extra 2 bars as per the original music, and as a natural breather for the dancers – adding an extra twirl for the fun of it.

The artists quickly scribed the dance shapes, the dancers, the musicians and  even the music as I taught Fer Lyskerrys: we have such immense talent in Liskeard and the surrounding area; the image of the Celtic cross, and the pattern of the Fer Lyskerrys wheel, with hands on shoulders was perceptively well captured.  And these were only ‘rough’ images!  Incredible!

Fer Lyskerrys tune captured in oils!

Over the course of the next few weeks, a series of Vital Spark workshops took place: musicians collaborated with contemporary dancers, sewing groups stitched away, writers got creative, singers worked on songs, and artists worked on their Fer Lyskerrys artwork.  You can see some of the images of this on the Liskerrett Centre’s website.

And the dancers learnt the shapes and  forms for a selection of simple Cornish social dances, such as Old-Hand-in-Hand, Mr Martin’s Reel, North Cornwall Furry, Tregajorran Furry and  Newlyn Reel, as well as dancing Fer Lyskerrys.

The Vital Spark Celebration 2011

Finally, the week of the Vital Spark, with the artwork exhibiting at Stuart House, an evening of song and  dance at the Liskerrett Centre, and finally, the Vital Spark Celebration in Liskeard Town Hall, which was decked out in the the fine artwork from the artists, cushions from the sewing group and  poems and  prose from the creative writing group.

The contemporary dancers had created some beautifully subtle and  powerful interpretations of Fer Lyskerrys, accompanied by the musicians, who had taken the original notated tune and  come back with an incredibly delicate, almost light-touch version.  The creative writers shared a selection of some of the most moving, witty and engaging poems and  prose, and the singers came back with the
Fer Lyskerrys song.

Rewards all round with cider and  ale, a delightfully moving performance of ‘Mothers and  Daughters’ from Skyl Glas, the Pan Celtic Competition Winners 2011 for the Cornish entry, along with Willow, and a finale with Cornish psych-folk-dub-reggae band, Pentorr playing for dancing after a final set of Fer Lyskerrys.

Here's a rake of pics from the workshops and the Vital Spark Celebration event.

“Can we do more of this?” was heard frequently in the feedback from audience and  participants ...
yes indeedy ..

More Cornish Dance and The Vital Spark 2012

‘Sparking Saturdays’ Cornish Dance Workshops carried on after the first Vital Spark Festival of the Arts, based on demand from participants, and newcomers appear frequently to have some ‘foot-stomping fun with Cornish dance’.

Scoot Lyskerrys is emerging as the Liskeard-based Cornish dance group, performing in the streets of Liskeard and  on selected occasions, including the opening of the ‘It’s a Hard Rock Life’ at Stuart House in Liskeard, in a mix of scoots (clogs), taps or whatever footwear is available.  And almost always dressed in bright colours.

And the Vital Spark is back this year, this time with a 2 week arts festival, including creative writing, making music, making a dance, paintings and  drawings, ‘Sparking Saturdays Cornish Dance’, ‘Style About Town’ and performances at the ‘Rough Cut’ in the Liskerrett Centre, and  the Vital Spark Celebration Event in the Town Hall.

This is the first blog in the Cornish Dance and Cornish Dance Products series ... thinking in particular about some of the lovely people from Liskeard, and those folk artists across the border in Chippenham, and across the next border in Glasgow ;)

Hope you like it!

Oll an gwella - all the best,
Carmen :D

PS . . . one day I'll get round to a post on . . . The Imploding Cornish March (sometimes known as ‘Coinage Hall’), Newlyn Reel, Tin Stamp, and Polperro Furry

PPS: hashtags weren't really around back in 2012 . . .