Barn Dance

Company Name: Welfare State International
Location: Villages halls
: early Eighties

John Fox Civic Magicians and Pathological Optimists Article for Hook-Up:

‘Over three years in the early Eighties, we transformed dull village halls into unrecognisable dream palaces with specifically designed lanterns, illuminated paintings on canvas and strings of bunting. The evening usually lasted four hours or more. In between dances we slipped in themed theatrical episodes using songs, story-telling and street-performance techniques.

Under the direction of Greg Stephens and Taffy Thomas, the company developed a band and a caller to play tunes for social dancing. Most of the music was traditional: reels, jigs, polkas, waltzes, circle dances and so on.

We start our journey at 10am. Rig from 1 pm onwards and finish de-rigging at 2 o’clock in the morning. Back to bed for 4 am. Villages, colleges, festivals. The hall is decorated with big, big lanterns and illuminated paintings. The music is amplified. Fiddles, accordions, saxes, drum. A loose pantomime story line and songs and narrative dances and shadow puppetry interspersed. 75 per cent public social dancing with a caller and functional band plus 25 per cent completely integrated poetic theatre. The theme of ship-wreck, and civilisations collapsing, (resurrection of the Titanic is extra). Prince Charming is not to be trusted. Cinders is a sad innocent creator and Robinson Crusoe rows in ever diminishing circles desperate to maintain a modicum of law and order. Together we dance. All ages. Nearly 200 of us a night … a good sprinkling of nuclear families. Together we dance on the edge of the abyss. To the tune of the Dead Man Conga. Where is the Deadman. Where is the Baby Eater. Inside the big house. Inside the White House. Where is the Deadman now?  To this tune the great unwrapping parcel dance occurs. Layer upon layer of crass media news-paper is ripped away. Inside, protected momentarily inside a bottle … is the Ark. The little relic of imagination. Then that old fool clown … back again in that old repainted army mac decorated in extraordinary expressionistic colours … now he also sports a water coloured conical hat. A jewelly bee-keeper of ancient secrets. He carries a treasure box suitcase; clearly the container of galaxies and faded Punch and Judy shows. He too carries a home-made ark, distinctly made from an ex-supermarket tampon carton, now bedecked with myriads of joyous card-board animals. In the case are candles. Newly discovered and ever distant galaxies. In a bit of hush the galaxies, the candles, are lit round the ark and we sing … Now is the Hour (apologies to the Maories for our rendering.) Enough time left to dance the conga and hold the ark on high. Enough time left to believe for a moment that it could all go on for ever.’ (Reproduced here courtesy of John Fox)


Lois Lambert, a performer from the Barn Dance, who sang My head is a fairground of dreaming written by John Fox.

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