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5000 Morris Dancers

  • Date: 24 September 2010
  • Artform: None
  • Area: North
Street art, 5000 Morris Dancers, 2010 Street art, 5000 Morris Dancers, 2010, Photograph courtesy of Playpen Management and Agency

When interviewed in Beijing about the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, Lord Coe joked that it would include 5000 morris dancers. Little did he realise that his words would inspire a major art event that would be described as an 'anarchic reinvention of the image of English Morris' involving morris dancers, Morrissey and the Southbank Centre.

Folk-pop artist David Owen's installation of an alternative vision of the traditional English morris dancer was the focus of a large-scale multimedia event in and around the Southbank Centre in September called 5000 Morris Dancers after Lord Coe's quip.

Owen said: 'I'd like to demonstrate that 5000 morris dancers can look cool. 5000 morris dancers can be iconic. They can take your breath away.'

The project was supported through an Arts Council England Grants for the arts award of £43,256 and produced by Terry O'Brien in partnership with English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) and supported by the UK's leading world roots music magazine fRoots. The Arts Council has been working extensively to support the English folk industry, encouraging project such as this.

5000 Morris Dancers included a street art campaign across Central London, opportunities to see and hear live music, film and dance performances, and to take part in discussions about the place of traditional English music and dance in our culture.

The project was a huge success in terms of raising the profile of morris dance and the artists involved, attracting major national media coverage, including features in the Telegraph, Time Out, The Observer, The Guardian Guide, The Independent, Songlines and Metro and a feature on The Today Programme on Radio 4 on the day the event opened.

English folk artists and bands performing over the three days included The Imagined Village and The Demon Barber Roadshow. While a night of music, A Celebration of Morris On, showcased new folk artists Sam Sweeney, Saul Rose, Jon Fuller, Dave Burbidge, and BBC Folk Awards winners Jim Moray, Jackie Oates and Sam Carter.

More than 130 morris dancers took part, challenging perceptions and entertaining audiences. Some of the best morris teams from around the country were invited to perform.

'These were some of the finest morris sides cherry-picked from across the country and showing all of the varied styles of morris that have evolved across England,' said Terry O'Brien, Project Manager for 5000 Morris Dancers.

The programme also included a film preview of Way of the Morris, Tim Plester's 2010 documentary. 

Terry continues: '5000 Morris Dancers was a truly joyful event that has had a positive response from the huge audiences across the weekend, and our morris sides left on the Sunday assuring us that serious in-roads had been made to realign the image of morris in the UK.

'We are now talking to the Southbank Centre about possibilities for a related event as part of their Festival of Britain celebrations next year and perhaps establishing an annual event.'

David Owen's exhibition 5000 Morris Dancers and Beyond is on until 3 October at The Stark Gallery, London SE12. 

Learn more about the Arts Council's work to nurture English folk music.