Auld Lang Syne

Review by Wangxiu Cheng and Yan Hong

We welcome back student teacher-in-residence Wangxiu Cheng for her second-term residency 30 January–10 March 2023 with us at Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland. Wangxiu is an award-winning graduate of the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy. She is currently undertaking her MSc studies in Dance Science and Education at the University of Edinburgh. Following a stellar start of her residency at Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland in the autumn of 2022, this time Wangxiu is joined by fellow MSc student Yan Hong under the curatorial mentorship of Iliyana Nedkova. This is Wangxiu’s third newly commissioned review specifically for Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland, following Cosmic Dance and Meditarraneo, this time featuring a contribution by Yan.


What’s to be remembered? What’s to be forgotten? What’s to let go?

These are the words opening Mairi Campbell‘s solo show Auld Lang Syne which I caught on the last stop of its tour across Scotland at my favourite Scottish Storytelling Centre – the home of Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland. I was pleased to return to the Centre on the first day of my second-term residency for a night of contentment and elation which I shared with a full house of theatre aficionados, including my fellow resident dance artist Yan Hong, my mentor Iliyana Nedkova and Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland Board members Wendy Timmons, Tony Chen and Bernie Hewitt.

Through the integration of live music, animation and movement, Campbell delves into the depths of the Auld Lang Syne song, uncovering the hidden mysteries and tales within it. Campbell’s dynamic approach brings the song to life, illuminating the stories and emotions it contains, and creating a truly immersive experience for the audience.

The iconic Scottish song Auld Lang Syne is not only a traditional anthem that is widely played around the world, but also one that has been given new vitality through the creative interpretation of Campbell since 2018. The song’s popularity and reach are a testament to its enduring appeal and timelessness. The new presentation of the song by Campbell has reinvigorated it and has allowed it to be enjoyed by a new generation of listeners. When all the audience present joined in for a sing-along in English and Scots, I realised why this song has been loved by so many people for centuries. This was truly one of the most exciting new sound experiences in Scotland for me!

On the way home I kept thinking about Campbell’s stories of love and abandonment, pondering about the reasons traditional music is still loved and appreciated even after it has been modernized or reinterpreted. Probably, it is due to its appeal to our empathy. Maybe, it is the nostalgia and longing that the music and sound awaken in the audience. Perhaps because, throughout Campbell’s stories, viewers are also transported to different places and times, constantly being inspired with feelings of awe, wonder and humour.

Again, I marvel at the cultural significance of trad music and the great artists who have perpetuated and innovated within it. It is through the efforts of artists like Campbell that the art form is continually infused with energy, enabling some works to transcend time and cultural boundaries, making them a popular and beloved form of art.

Auld Lang Syne has also inspired me to consider revitalising my practice in the field of dance education through incorporating music into dance training so that students could develop a sense of rhythm and phrasing. Integrating the music into the movements delicately will make the dance more attractive.

In addition, we can collaborate with musicians developing students’ ability to improvise. Through music and dance, educators can help students become more expressive and creative artistic participants.

Moreover, teachers can examine how music and movement work together, leading students to a deeper understanding of the connections between the two art forms and how they can be used to create powerful and moving performances.

In these ways, they can bring a more holistic approach to music and dance education and ultimately produce more accomplished, well-rounded dancers.

In the words of Yan Hong:

“What I liked most was that as a storyteller Mairi Campbell wasn’t just giving voice to tales old and new, that as a musician she wasn’t just using music to perform them. It was the combination of storytelling and physical movement, as well as music, that made Auld Lang Syne a tender and powerful confession of memory and friendship. From my perspective as a dancer, I couldn’t help but think about the relationship between dance and language, dance and music throughout the show.

Historically, the combination of music and language with dance which we once deplored as secondary to the early Italian ballets, has since developed into something that we are proud of because it adds a more three-dimensional effect to the performance. In this production Campbell’s simple yet infectious dance movements create the scenes of the story, while the rich lighting design facilitates the transitions, giving us the magical feeling of watching an one-act play.

Auld Lang Syne transcends the nostalgia for old times. It is an engraving of collective memories, as it is often played and danced to, marking the end of an event, an year or a day, even a graduation ceremony as it is in China. So, it carries the memories of a lot of people evoking different emotions from raw sadness to calm immersion in deep time.”


Images by Wangxiu Cheng. Editorial support by Iliyana Nedkova