Along with hundreds of dancers and their family members, mainly from the Southern Region, Noreen and I made our way to St Joseph’s School in Slough to take in the 18th annual Feis Murchú-Duiginn.
I still have vivid and kind recollections of the atmosphere at the first Murphy-Diggins Feis in my early years of feis photography. Back then this feis was a full weekend event but now the event has been bound into a single day.
Organised by Maria, Fiona and Ann Marie of the Murchú-Duiginn Academy, it was a brave move to contain what is usually a two day feis into a single day, especially as the size of entry has not diminished, and if anything this feis has increased in popularity.
In recent weeks I have experienced two other one-day feiseanna which by virtue of relatively smaller entries were not so managerially challenging. But Murchú-Duiginn was a different kettle of fish and careful planning was needed to ensure that the timetable didn’t take on a life of its own.
It was inevitable that a perennially popular feis in the most populous dancer region would continue to attract a large entry in the three components of preregistered entries, late entries and the anticipated unpredictable number of entrants who pay on the day. At most feiseanna the bulk of entries are surely the grade dancers, particularly the very young, for novice, primary, intermediate and open solos.
It was decided that time would be saved at this feis by employing a recent innovation called the 32-Bar Grade System. The system requires all dancers to be on stage at the same time so that time is not wasted in walking on and off, and bowing between each cohort.
Apart from saving time it is believed to enhance audience participation by capturing the attention of the whole audience, thereby ensuring a quieter and more orderly reception for all dancers. It certainly has the effect of giving each dancer a greater amount of time in the stage limelight. But I would like to hear adjudicators’ views on whether it adds pressure to the time available for marking.
But as a former practitioner in the field of work study (known to some as ‘Time & Motion’) I’m all in favour of shining the torch of scientific management on the stage management of Irish dancing.
All audiences, particularly those at the major events such as the World Championships, will have experience of sitting through unexplained interminable delays while waiting for dancing to begin, or for awards to be presented. Very often announcers tell us ‘Táimid réidh le tosú’, which the monoglot understandably will interpret as ‘We’re not yet ready to begin’. Yes there were a few moments of stage inactivity in the Murchú-Duiginn grades hall, but at least the audience was always informed of the reasons, such as the logistics of dealing with unavoidable simultaneous scheduling of dancers of the same age group in different halls.
All in all the stage management rose well to the timetabling challenge which added to a friendly enjoyable atmosphere. But above all great credit is due to young dancers in the grades hall who coped well with the complexities of the new 32-bar system.
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