I’m in Orkney on holiday with Fiona, Alice and James again. The break is almost over (as I type this, I’m also running through a checklist for getting packed and heading south again, for the autumn) and when this sees the light of day, I’ll be back in the new house in Walthamstow. It’s been good and I feel a lot more relaxed than I did last year.
But anyway, Orkney. The way dates click round through the days of the week means that for the first time in ages we were around for some of the agricultural shows; we went to Dounby and the West Mainland Show. Insider/outsider – Winogrand – show week would be a possible project for someone (but not for me – my engagement with farming has only ever been through the prism of The Archers, really). Fairgrounds and rides. People taking themselves and what they’re engaged in very seriously.
As well as animals (or rather their farmer owners) competing for prizes, there were the usual trade stands and displays. We paused by the dance exhibition for a while. Fiona did Scottish dancing when she was a child, living just to the north of Glasgow; she won medals and was surprised by the emotional charge of watching this part of the show; Alice – along with other things – does ballet and was entranced, taking videos which she watched again and again later.
The dancing in Dounby was very precise – small movements with specific parts of the dancers’ feet touching the ground or circling round the other foot in a series of taps – this is dance as control of self, codified (by the victorians?) and turned into something capable of being judged or rated. I began to think about my experience of dance as a form of abandonment, at weddings and ceilidhs…
Later in the day we washed up at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. There were two temporary exhibitions on with the larger of them devoted to the films of Margaret Tait. The last film I watched before the gallery closed was a short I had never seen before called Painted Eightsome which was completed in 1970; it was marvellous! I sat entranced as patterns swirled on the screen, forming and reforming, combining and splitting again, mirroring dancers in bursts of hand-painted colour.
I recognised the music from weddings and school dances and ceilidhs, and guessed that it was the Strathspey and Reel society playing. How different it was from the academic dancing we’d seen at the show earlier.
- Tait, M (1970) Painted eightsome. Ancona Films, Edinburgh and Orkney.
The link to the film in the body of this post goes to the Moving Picture Archive of the National Library of Scotland. Give it a look – it’s great!