Hothouse Reflections by Clare Parker

As the Hothouse Show have just received a warm welcome for their final performance at Sidmouth 2013, it is a natural time for me to reflect on the past 12 months dancing with young people at Halsway Manor since Paul James appointed me as Halsway Manor’s Youth Dance Associate. I met Will Lang a year ago at Sidmouth Folk Festival and we soon started hatching plans to integrate young dancers into the Hothouse project which Will has lead with musicians for the past few years at Halsway Manor. The idea was to bring together talented young dancers and musicians, who had limited or no prior experience of folk, to work with top dance artists and musicians and create a new show based on our folk traditions, for touring. The following January we had funding support from both Arts Council England and Futures for Somerset; and established partnerships with Take Art and Somerset Youth Dance Company, Bridgwater College and a number of schools in Bridgwater.

For a week in early Spring 2013, 23 talented young musicians and dancers got together at Halsway Manor to work with leading dance artists and musicians. Bringing fresh talents and skills to the mix, they explored traditional folk song, music and dance, alongside other styles like street dance and rock music. They created a new and exciting fusion, formed the Hothouse Show; presenting a new piece of original music and dance for touring to the Hothouse festival, and Priddy and Sidmouth Folk festivals in summer of 2013.

It was wonderful to see how the young dancers felt so at home at Halsway and embraced a totally new style of music and dance. As one young dancer said “I have gained experience of these different styles of dance. It has made me realise there are other good things out there”.

Hothouse Festival 2013 lores (94 of 213)

Photo: Hothouse dancers/musicians after their first performance at Halsway Manor Hothouse Festival April 2013

In the past year we have also worked with over 150 children in Taunton schools on our Spring Up! programme which aims to inspire a love of folk and social dance through regular country dance sessions in schools. Following sessions in their school, many of the children came up to celebrate May Day at Halsway Manor, and some teachers and their pupils were so inspired that they worked on their own dances to perform at local fetes. One teacher said, “The children learnt different dances – street, folk, country. They were great! It is a great opportunity for specialist dance – thank you!”. 

So what do we have in store for next year? We are taking Spring Up! to Minehead schools and hope to develop a schools flashmob shanty performance for the Minehead Harbour Festival of July 2014. Hothouse will continue to grow and merge traditional and new styles of music and dance. We will form new partnerships and work with young dancers in Bridgwater and Taunton to create our own youth dance company. And we have some exciting plans for a folk dance project for disabled children as we continue in our mission to bring the joys of folk dance to as many young people as possible.

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Spotlight on Taffy Thomas who is our storyteller extraordinaire

Spotlight on Taffy Thomas who is our storytelling festival host at Halsway Manor on 20th – 22nd September – Taffy Thomas trained as a Literature and Drama teacher at Dudley College of Education. After teaching for several years in Wolverhampton he founded and directed the legendary folk theatre company, Magic Lantern, illustrating traditional stories and songs with shadow puppets and circus skills. He founded and directed the community arts company, Charivari, with their popular touring unit, the Fabulous Salami Brothers, which he fronted and performed in. After a major stroke at the age of 36 Taffy turned back to story telling as self-imposed speech therapy, which turned into a new career. Taffy has a repertoire of more than 300 stories, collected mainly from traditional oral sources, which he is happy to tell in almost any situation. This repertoire was built by meeting and working with virtually all the great traditional storytellers who were alive in Britain. See ‘Ancestral Voices’. He is now the most experienced English storyteller, having performed in many countries on four continents. He is currently artistic director of Tales in Trust, the Northern Centre for Storytelling, based at The Storyteller’s Garden in Grasmere. In the 2001 New Year Honours List he was awarded the MBE for services to storytelling and charity and performed a new collaboration for the Blue Peter Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. Taffy is a patron of the Society for Storytelling. In October 2009 Taffy accepted the honorary position of first Laureate for Storytelling which ran for two years from January 2010 to January 2012.
With Taffy’s head bursting with stories, riddles and folklore, professional storyteller Giles Abbot once commented, “when Taffy goes it will be like a library burning down.” http://ow.ly/nBTDD