Adderbury Morris - Latvia Tour
Well, where to begin, what to say? An extraordinary few days, Adderbury Morris Mens first foreign tour, the first time, as far as we know that morris dancers had appeared in Latvia and the whole experience remarkable in many ways. Latvia is a long way off the beaten paths trod by most travellers and yet it provided us with a memorable visit and the opportunity to see places and people far removed from our everyday experiences.
One of the things that made the trip particularly special was the way we were looked after: by Ian and his wife, Anita, by the British Embassy, especially Sarah and Brigita and by Dave OBrien and his staff at ECB co. Food and drink loomed large throughout the tour but so did plenty of dancing, always to appreciative audiences and occasionally in contexts which were really quite moving
The hand picked squad represented Adderbury's finest, you can view their photographs and read their personal biographies here.........
Thursday May 17th.
We had been booked for the visit through the good offices of Adderbury dancer Ian Gow, known in Latvia as Ianis Kalejs, as part of the celebrations of British Week. After a mid-day Meeting at the Bell in Adderbury we began the long journey to Riga, by coach to Gatwick then a British Airways flight to Riga, touching down just before midnight local time. Our first sight of our accommodation, apartments on the corner of Gertrudes iela and Barona iela, was not particularly encouraging. In fact it was pretty well what you might expect: flaking paint and crumbling plaster, long cold spirals of marble staircase punctuated by grubby landings, single light bulbs dangling from carelessly draped cables and five flights of steps to climb because, we were told, the Russians removed the lifts when they pulled out in 1991.
Fortunately the rooms we were to inhabit were immaculate when we finally reached them, indeed the whole block was undergoing renovation and our apartments were among some of the most recent to be completed. Also hard at work were the builders over the road, because of the cold winters the building season lasts just four months and so they work round the clock when able to do so. Nobody felt much like sleep so having been joined by Ian Gow we set off for a late night drink; 2.00 a.m. saw us in bar called A Suns enjoying a few light lager type beers, priekasoon became part of our vocabulary. Two hours later we were negotiating for Latvian style sausage and chips in another bar with an American theme where the staff were probably quite relieved to see us disappearing into the night with an all sung version of our traditional finishing dance, Shepherds Away
Friday May 18th
The team outside 37 Barona iela: (left to right) Ianis Kalejes, Ian Harris, Jon Eastmond, David Moore, Steve Priest, Phil le mare, Colin Street, Stephen Wass, Verna Wass, Nigel Bennet, David Gunby, Edward Priest, Mike Cherry.. and Tim Laughton behind the camera.
Despite the terminally late night everyone was feeling pretty perky at 9.00 a.m. the same morning when we boarded a minibus to take us the 90 km to the first stop of our tour: the medieval town of Cesis, this was despite having had to wolf down a large multiple course breakfast courtesy of our Russian maid Valentina. The journey out itself was unremarkable save in the huge stretches of forest which lined the road broken only occasionally by small farming communities and now and then large but apparently isolated crumbling soviet era apartment blocks.
Leaving the bus in Cesis
Cesis itself was an attractive little town and we were scheduled to perform at 11.00 in Vienibas Laukums, the towns central square. We were more than a little astonished to find that the police had moved in and closed it to traffic to allow us to dance unhindered. Those who attend our annual day of dance in Adderbury will be familiar with the way in which we normally have to dodge cars outside the Bell so this was a very welcome change.
Cesis, dancing in Vienibas Laukums infront of the war memorial
Unfortunately it did put us at something of a distance from our audience who lined the sides of the square a good 50m or so away from us. Nethertheless the crowd, and it eventually became quite a large one, was very appreciative of our efforts to the point where an elderly lady presented several of us with small bunches of lily of the valley, having got up at 4.00 that morning to walk into town to see the English Dancers
After a short walk around the historic centre we found ourselves at a very smart new restaurant on the outskirts of town for the first of several excellent three course meals, however, we had to question the wisdom of serving beetroot soup to fourteen dancers and musicians all in white trousers.
Beetroot soup in Cesis
After lunch we practiced round the back of the restaurant a new dance I put together for the tour. Called originally The Young Lady of Riga but rapidly redubbed Tiger Feet it began with the set facing up and reciting
There was a young lady of Riga,
Who rode with a smile on a tiger,
They returned from the ride,
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
What then followed was a conventional stick dance to the tune of Blue-eyed Stranger which seemed somehow appropriate for visitors to a Baltic state. The chorus involved overhead sticking as in Lads a Bunchem with the difference that 1 strkes 2 as 6 strikes 5. The two dancers who have just received then turn so 2 strikes 4 and 5 strikes 3. then with a further turn 3 strikes 1 and 6 strikes 6 so the sticking seems to travel round the set. then, at the suggestion of David Gunby, everyone clashes with their opposite. This is followed by half a foot up before the next figure
Cesis, First performance of 'Tiger Feet'
Having been rehearsed the dance had its premiere round the front of the restaurant before the amused staff and other bemused lookers on. There were apparently no further calls on our time until the evening so we were taken on a tour of some of the historic sites of the area including a reconstructed ninth century lake village at Araisu and Turaida Castle.
... with Brigita at the Araisu Lake Village
Back to our apartment we met a journalist and camera crew from Latvian TV who interviewed Ian and Verna and then filmed us dancing Shepherds Away in the flats lounge, a rather alarming experience for the people in the flat underneath one would imagine. Then just time for a further three course meal before going on to our next engagement. The British week was to be formally launched with a gala dinner at a restaurant in the diplomatic quarter called Vincents, a fashionable place for visiting dignitaries run by celebrity chef Martins Ritins and there waiting for us... another three course meal. Fortunately we were able to negotiate a break for performing between the starter and main course. Originally this had been billed as a ceilidh but there was really no space to do very much, in addition the rain was now sheeting down outside so we had to cram our two spots into a corner of the main dining room as well as an quick version of Dashing White Sergeant called by Ian Harris. On the whole we made a pretty good impression despite the rather incongruous circumstances.
By the time we had got back to our apartment and changed the rain had stopped so we piled onto a tram and rattled down Barona iela to the old town where we found ourselves in that most ubiquitous of institutions: the Irish Pub. This one was called Paddy Whelans although Paddy himself didnt seem to be very much in evidence. Ian had played gigs here with his band and so was well known to many of the locals. Equally friendly was the large Russian who really took a shine to Tim Laughton.... we left shortly afterwards, bed around 2.30 a.m. for most of us.
Saturday May 19th
At the Rimi MOLS shopping Centre
A slightly later start leaving at 11.00 a.m. for a large modern shopping centre Rimi MOLS along Krasta iela. It was of course all part of promoting British week in the shops but it was rather like dancing in Sainsburys. As we werent due to kick off until midday we lined up for coffees then played a few tunes before the off. As well as normal Adderbury fare Verna danced her Bloxham jig and Colin, Nigel, Dave Moore, David Gunby and I performed the Banbury version of a rapper sword dance from Beadnell with Verna playing fiddle.
It appeared that lunch was upon us again and we drove back into town to Vernisazsa a marvelous restaurant in a restored mansion in Vermanes Park. We walked from there across the park to an open air theatre where we were to perform on a raised wooden stage to an audience of families out for a day in the park and elderly chess and cards players. Once again we were much appreciated and the audience grew as our performance continued.
In Vermanes Park
Afterwards there was a bit of a media scrum as we were photographed and interviewed for Latvian television. By now it was late afternoon but there was time for a quick stroll into the old town to do a little shopping before boarding our bus for an evening at Lido Atputas Centrs. This was a fascinating combination of theme park and themed restaurant with the accent being on traditional Latvian architecture and food. The place was constructed on a massive scale with huge baulks of timber pressing up the roof and dark labyrinthine cellars with brick arcading packed with diners.
Latvian Folk Group Dandari dancing outside the Lido Atputas Centrs
After a quick drink we met up with a folk dance group based on the University and named Dandari. We danced turn and turn about, most of their dances were social dances and singing figured largely in most of them. Music was provided by recorders, a drum and a kind of autoharp without the auto; a dulcimer like instrument was played by strumming with the right hand while blocks of strings were muted by the left. Despite the howling wind and occasional spots of rain a large crowd gathered to watch us and once again the reception was enthusiastic, however, we couldnt keep it up for long and around 8.00 p.m. we retreated into the bowels of the building to sit at a long table and share another excellent meal. Songs and tunes were exchanged and we presented them with a inscribed morris stick. Round about 10.00 p.m. it was time to leave but as we reached the forecourt another impromptu dance started up with the girls from Dandari grabbing some of the Adderbury men and insisting they copy the steps and moves of a whole series of Latvian dances then, when we really had to go, they sang us back to our coach and made their farewells.
Once we had changed we were ready for another night out this time the overwhelming feeling was that Irish or other British establishments should be avoided and that we would lend our support to a more local kind of bar. So it was that we found ourselves in Runcis (Tomcat) in Jana Seta for an evening of hilarity and Black Balsam before finishing the session with Shepherds Away and a 2.00 a.m. hike back up Barona iela... and so to bed.
Sunday May 20th.
Sunday morning outside the Congress building.. the pain is beginning to show!
Everyone was out and blinking in the bright morning sunshine around 10.00 a.m. before a lengthy walk to a large open plaza in front of the Latvian Congress building. people were becoming a little anxious as we were ten minutes or so late in starting but this in morris terms was practically a miracle. As it was the pain really showed in the first couple of dances. Nethertheless we persevered and as muscles loosened up once again the day didnt look quite so bad.
We walked through the park pausing for a moment of silence next to the monuments of five people killed by soviet bullets during the disturbances of January 1991.
In front of the Hotel de Rome
Outside our next spot, the Hotel de Rome in Kalku iela, we put on another well received display, but nothing was quite as welcome as the sit down and coffee and cakes we had round the corner at the Melnais Kakis. Then it was time to go in search of our bus for a short drive out into the suburbs where we found a meeting of the Jaguar owners club at 99 Lacplesa iela. We were never quite sure exactly what was going on but we danced and enjoyed a pint of Bombardier before journeying on to what was to be our last official booking of the weekend, outside the Blackheads House in Ratslaukums.
The Jaguar owners Club do...
Here we had our biggest crowd of the tour and the worst weather as just after we had started our first dance the heavens open and stinging hail sheeted down but Adderbury kept dancing and to their credit most of the audience stayed put. however, once it became clear that the rain was going to continue for some time we adjourned to a covered area beneath the museum of the Occupation where we had something like 200 people pressing around us. The reception was terrific, after declaiming the first line of There was a young lady of Riga... we had to stop while the cheering died down. As part of a much extended programme I attempted to dance and play Jockey to the Fair for the first time and when it came to our final Shepherds Away a number of people joined us including some of the girls from the folk group Dandari who had come down to watch us. It was a fantastic conclusion to the weekend's dancing and afterwards as the audience applauded us we applauded them back.
Jockey to the Fair
Still damp we made our way to another fine restaurant, the Melnie Muki (Black Monks) where we were treated to an excellent spread and joined briefly by Stephen Nash, the British Ambassador, who said a few words of thanks. After a brief call in at the apartment to change we rounded the day off with a walking tour of old Riga, a beer and a final meal back at the flat, then our last night out on the town. We had arranged to meet our minders Sarah and Brigita at the A Suns Bar but as the night wore on we were joined by many others from the embassy including the ambassador once again. A friendly competition ensued pitching the voices of Adderbury against the efforts of a solitary Scottish piper. the issue was resolved when the piper ran out of steam but we bought him another drink anyway. By 2.30 a.m. we were back in the apartment where an impromptu ceilidh took off with Ians wife Anita sharing some of her repertoire of 900 Latvian folk songs and dances whilst we replied in kind. By 4.00 a.m. bed seemed like a good idea especially as we had to be up by 6.00 a.m. for the taxi to the airport but there again.....
So final thoughts. Firstly of course we owe a great debt of gratitude to everyone in Latvia who made our stay not only possible but pleasurable. As someone said, We knew we were going to have a good time but we didnt imagine just how good. As far as the dancing was concerned the main thing that struck me was the enormous respect that traditional dance seemed to draw from the population. Here, in England, we are used to being treated with anything from amused condescension to downright contempt but the feeling in Latvia is quite different. I guess it is something to do with living in a country which is in many ways still searching for an identity after at least one false start and fifty years of oppression.
I was enormously pleased and proud of the show Adderbury put on, performing in a way which is uniquely our own and both rooted in the past but growing in the present. We felt at the start that the embassy staff were not quite sure what they had taken on but it was clear that they warmed to us as the weekend went by and we turned out to perform regularly and put on a good show. Indeed in the context of promoting a British based event it is hard to imagine a more effective way to spread the message on the streets than with the Adderbury Morris Men, other foreign festival organisers please note.
We did suggest, for future reference, that better use could be made of us in terms of spreading the message, by planning for more stops at smaller locations rather than just doing one or two high profile spots in big open spaces. We should certainly have pushed harder to do a ceilidh, that would really have knocked people's socks off, but these are very minor criticisms, the whole excursion was a triumph by anyone's measure.
USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
ENGLISH LATVIAN Yes / no Ja / ne Thank you! / Please! Paldies! / Ludzu! I am sorry! Atvainojiet! Excuse me! Piedodiet! Good afternoon! Labdien! Good-bye! Uz redzesanos! How are you? Ka klajas? I understand / don't understand Es saprotu / nesaprotu I want / don't want Es gribu / negribu I have / haven't Man ir / nav I like / don't like Man patik / nepatik May I ... ? Vai drikstu ... ? Tell me, please ... Sakiet, ludzu ... Do you speak English? Vai jus runajat angliski? I don't speak Latvian. Es nerunaju latviski. What is your name? Ka jus sauc? My name is Chris Leslie Mani sauc Chris Leslie Where do you live? Kur jus dzivojat? I am from Adderbury Es esmu no Adderbury I / we Es / mes You / you tu / jus he / she vins / vina What? Who? Kas? When? Kad? Where? Kur? Why? Kapec? You must be joking, I could buy that loads cheaper in Banbury! Cik? At what time? Cikos? Where is Colin ? Kur ir Colin ? What does it cost? Cik maksa? What do you want? Ko jus gribat? How far? Cik talu? How long? Cik ilgi? Everything is in order. Viss ir kartiba. To your health! Uz veselibu! Welcome! Laipni ludzam! I love you Nigel Es tevi milu Nigel Cheers ! Prieka!
I have checked out one or two interesting Latvian Sites, here are a few links which might prove interesting.