Thursday 3 November 2011

The Dancing Girls of Granada

To Brighton on Sunday for Joglaresa's concert for the Brighton Early Music Festival. It was an early start, 6pm, which suited us admirably but also meant that for those in the area you could catch the 9pm concert in the venue as well.

The players and vocalists of Joglaresa come from a variety of backgrounds, but merge together to create an exciting and involving re-creation of Medieval Mediterranean music; music which often survives simply as a text or a text and a tune. At the concert at St. George's Church on Sunday the line-up consisted of Belinda Sykes (voice/director), Avivit Caspi (voice), Ruth Fraser (voice), Jean Kelly (harp), Tim Garside (nay, percussion, dulcimer), Stuart Hall (out, guitar, kemence).

For many of the items the group were joined by the Brighton Early Music Community Choir who sang choruses in many numbers and were clearly enjoying themselves. Joglaresa's performing style is heavily based on improvisation and the choir joined in admirably, proving adept at providing a suitable backing.

The programme mixed music from Andalusia at the time of the Arabs, with some of the Cantigas de Santa Maria which, though sacred, often use traditional melodies as their basis. The Andalusian items varied between those of an Arab and those of a Jewish background, including one which I recognised from a contemporary arrangement of Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) folksongs.

Whilst most of the songs were given in lively arrangements with plenty of accompaniment, we also had occasional periods of calm with items of poignantly beautiful simplicity. The theme of this years BREMF is dancing and not only did Joglaresa give us songs sung by the dancing girls of Granada (slave girls who entertained by singing and dancing) but they were joined by a real live belly dancer, Galit Mersand who danced in the majority of the items and provided a richly evocative visual counter-point to the music. Mersand is an Israeli-born UK based belly-dancer who also gives classes (check out her web-site for details!). For the traditional Arabic/Spanish song Bailava en Tetuan (Dancing in Tetuan) she was joined by a members of a belly dancing class, giving us a wonderfully infectious version of the song. In fact, for the finale, Anabalina, all the dancers returned and persuaded a number of members of the audience to dance as well.

This enjoyable evening was exactly what a festival event should be, providing high quality performances but mixing in local references and local performers to create a truly unique evening. Needless to say the audience were very enthusiastic.

There is just 1 weekend of the BREMF left to go, with a musical/dramatic evening about Hildegard of Bingen on Saturday and Purcell's Fairy Queen on Sunday.

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