Sword of the dance

The Traipse, sword dance with a modern twist, created by Harry Theaker for imove, Cultural Olympiad 2012
The Traipse, sword dance with a modern twist, created by Harry Theaker for imove, Cultural Olympiad 2012

A TROUPE of dancers will be traipsing into Sheffield on Wednesday to entertain unsuspecting audiences in a variety of unlikely places.

In a Cultural Olympiad project called The Traipse travelling across Yorkshire, traditional sword-dancing is being given a modern twist.

Sheffield dance artist and choreographer Harry Theaker

Sheffield dance artist and choreographer Harry Theaker

Accompanied by folk music and a caller, the five dancers work together holding flexible metal swords, ‘rappers’ , to perform quick and complicated routines.

The dancers in The Traipse had never before performed rapper moves (a traditional type of sword dance that originated from Northumbrian mining villages) before being brought together by Sheffield-born dance artist and choreographer Harry Theaker.

He was the man behind the idea of The Traipse which combined contemporary dance with rapper history and time-honoured moves to create an exploration of tradition, culture and heritage and successfully pitched it to Imove, the Legacy Trust UK’s pre-Olympic cultural programme for Yorkshire.

“They really liked the way it engaged people, especially communities who might be harder to reach,” he explains. “Then there was the broader context of exploring that great oxymoron, the English identity and English cultural traditions.”

Following the Yorkshire dates, The Traipse will go to London on March 31 to form part of The Rapperlympics, the prestigious Dancing England Rapper Tournament.

The team will take the stories they have gathered on their traipse round Yorkshire to the capital city where they will tour the streets and bars of Camden and Soho as just one of the groups involved in DERT.

“We use and interpret the traditional rapper sequences, moves, forms, locks and rhythms that are intricate and complex,” explains Theaker. “As contemporary dancers we are able to show and perform them in a new way, as they incorporate more fluid and dynamic innovations in the movement and methods used.

“We are very excited about taking the performance to small venues in and around the region where we will be able to engage with the general public, find out their stories and ultimately weave them into our narrative for the trip to London, taking a little bit of Yorkshire to the Olympic host city.”

The Traipse is the launch project for Theaker’s company, Brightfurnace, whose name reflects the background of the man born in Brightside.

“I come from a working class background and most of my family worked in the steel industry,” he says. “One of the attributes of sword dancing is it’s a working class dance. I was a member of the Handsworth Sword Dancers for a while, although they use a Yorkshire longsword style rather than rapper.”

Theaker’s dance career spans two decades of working with companies all over the world and close to home (he was a co-founder of Vincent Dance Theatre in Sheffield).

In that time he has also done other things ranging from being ordained as a novice monk to nursing. That may be a ;egacu pf growing up before anyone had heard of Billy Elliot.

“I was interested in dance as a kid but they weren’t ready for someone who asked to go to ballet school at the age of seven, so I did a lot of other physical stuff like gymnastics,” he explains.

“When I left school I spent a couple of years doing stuff I was unhappy with and yearned to do something that needed expression. It was my mother who said if you are going to do this, you need to do it properly, and so I applied to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, even though I had never done any contemporary work. I remember being at a loss when I had to prepare an audition solo. I did some clog steps which took them aback I think but it must have worked because I got in.”

These days Theaker leads masterclasses and workshops within professional, education and community contexts while developing his own dance work.

The Traipse will arrive in Sheffield on Wednesday and start off in Castle Market at 1pm, followed by Kelham island Industrial Museum, 2pm, Emmaus, 2.45pm, Winter Garden, 4.15pm, Bath Hotel 5pm, The Shakespeare 6pm, Kelham Island Tavern, 6.30pm, The Fat Cat, 7pm and finish up at The Riverside in Mowbray Street.

This will be an event called The Trespass Inn, a finale compered by Sheffield comedy character Precious Cleaver, aka actor Stewart Gibb-Lodge who is part of The Traipse team, “playing the role of the Fool, forming a bridge between the audience and the dancers”.

Continues Theaker: “The Trespass Inn will be a mash-up of different forms with some guests like the Maltby Phoenix sword dancers, an open mic, performance poetry and we will be encouraging people to tell a story, sing a song and tell us what they think being English means.”