Words by Iliyana Nedkova and Eleanor Sinclair. Video by Euan Gilmour and Nic Gareiss. Images by Iliyana Nedkova
The first iteration of Pomegranates – a mini-festival of traditional international dance – initiated and curated by the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland – was conceived to mark International Dance Day on 29 and 30 April 2022 and formed part of Edinburgh Tradfest 2022 – a festival of longer tap roots in the Edinburgh Folk Festival, launched by TRACS in 2013, then curated by Soundhouse in collaboration with Transgressive North since 2019 and with Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland since 2022.
As our culture continues to diversify, so do the definitions of traditional dance and ‘Scottishness’, especially in times of uncertainty, displacement and border restrictions. The words of Ian McMillan, a poet of Scottish heritage, resonated with us:
Is the new certainty
Is the new stability
And language’s ability
Is starting to bend
We felt it was important to celebrate and amplify the contributions of creative immigrants in Scotland. Whether they migrated from overseas, or were first- or second-generation immigrants born in Scotland, these were artists whose family histories or migratory experiences had enriched both their practice and the wider Scottish artistic panorama, including traditional dance.
Why Pomegranates? Inspired by this vibrant contemporary artistic landscape, Pomegranates set out to discover the seeds or the ingredients of traditional dance the world over by reaching out to Scotland-based traditional dance artists, visual artists and musicians from diverse cultural backgrounds, including Scotland, Greece, India, the Congo, Bulgaria, Spain, Italy, China, Mongolia, France, Japan, Egypt and the USA.
In the midst of curating we also discovered the line “Attracts me like a pomegranate”. It was initially the second line of Beatles’ song Something (1969) written by George Harrison. “Pomegranate” was only used as a temporary filler before Harrison settled on the final lyrics, yet for us ‘pomegranate’ became a metaphor for the process of creative professional development. No wonder that the pilot festival edition of Pomegranates started with a professional development workshop for international traditional dance artists based in Scotland. It opened on Friday 29 April with a day of workshops hosted at St Leonards Dance Studio, Edinburgh. Participants explored the fundamental movements and steps of dance styles from around the world. Alison Carlyle and Alexis Street led the opening workshops introducing all to Scottish step and Highland Dance with live music from Sarah Hoy. Further exploring European dance traditions, the dancers travelled through France with Jean-Christophe Denis, Greece with Valeria Skafida and Bulgaria with Ariana Stoyanova before arriving in Asia.
Within the European traditions, the social aspect of traditional dance or folk dance was noticeably prevalent with most sessions including partner or full group interaction. The flow and continuation of each dance, relied on dancers drawing connections not just from the music, which provided a guide for rhythm and tempo, but from each other. Dancers often took cues for direction of movement from one another either through touch or indirect body language and eye contact. Footwork such as spring, steps, hops and pas de basques were common across the styles as was the use of arms raised above the head.
Over in Asia, dancers were led through Japan with Heather Rikic, Mongolia and Korea with Muqian Zhou, China with Yilei Chen with elegance and gentle precision at the heart of the dance traditions. Hand movements and subtle transitions created expressive and enchanting performances with the connection between dancer and live music by virtuoso fiddle player Jonathan Bews once more apparent throughout each workshop.
For the final stop of the day, dancers arrived in the Congo for some energetic Congolese and hip hop dancing with Kalubi Mukengela-Jacoby and Kemono Lebe Riot. Within these styles rhythm and tempo are key and so was the live accompaniment on drums courtesy of Nemo Ganguli, ‘Young Drummer of The Year’ Finalist ‘22.
Each workshop included an introduction from the tutor to their country and dance tradition followed by practical learning of popular movements, steps and dances within each tradition. The workshops were available to view via a live stream from the University of Edinburgh and a recording from selected live streamed workshops will be made available.
Pomegranates Promenade was preceded by the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland Annual General Meeting where we looked back, as well as forward by launching two new Traditional Dance Residencies for international traditional dance artists in a first-time collaboration with Citymoves Dance Agency in Aberdeen.
The second day of the festival commenced with the spectacular promenade performance in the Netherbow Theatre at The Scottish Storytelling Centre and included a new headdress commission in tribute to Ukrainian traditional dance artists courtesy of costume designer Fiona Rose Gregory. Blending traditional dance styles from across the word into a collaborative group performance, dancers were dressed in full traditional costume for their dance region. The choreographed performance interlaced the many dance traditions into one piece supported by fantastic musical accompaniment improvised by Tom Oaks – one of the UK’s top flautists and multi-instrumentalists.
Pomegranates visual artist-in-residence Claudia Nocentini who danced away with her iPad and stylus throughout the professional development workshop to create over 80 gestural life drawings provided those as a moving image accompaniment for the costume promenade.
Nic Gareiss, Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland dance artist-in-residence 2019, opened the panel discussion with a special video greeting which you can watch below. He set the scene for the conversation at the centre of which was the connection between dance and music with the contribution also of trad musician Lori Watson of Traditional Music Forum of Scotland.
Deep diving into the essence of life, author, dancer and choreographer Jennifer Shoonover asserted that heartbeat and breath are the primary ingredients of dance and rhythm. Through the beat of our hearts, we are kept alive and as such, the body is dependent on its connection with music.
Mats Melin, Professor Emeritus in Dance at the University of Limerick, Ireland (2005-2021) who also served on the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland Board of Trustees, joined in to introduce their newly published book entitled Dance Legacies of Scotland: The True Glen Orchy Kick (Routledge, 2020) – a collage of references portraying percussive Scottish dancing and explained what influenced a wide disappearance of hard-shoe steps from contemporary Scottish practices.
The festival concluded with an energetic ceilidh with young and old up on the dance floor. Caller Pia Walker provided dance instruction with music from Terrific Trouble Ceilidh Band.
Enjoy some of the festival highlights in our brief video above which captures the spirit of our inaugural Pomegranates festival and anticipates next year’s celebration of dance and trad music from all round the world on our doorstep. Mark your diaries with 29-30 April 2023 for our Pomegranates international trad dance festival as part of Edinburgh Tradfest 2023 and keep dancing.