In 2011 Shooglenifty joined forces with Frank McConnell’s Plan B dance company to create a project aimed at encouraging people onto the dance floor. The Shoogle Project brings together dance, live music and performance in a production they describe as part gig, part show, part ceilidh, but most importantly, simply a good night out. Having spent much of 2011 touring Scotland with the show, The Shoogle Project came to Celtic Connections this week.
As Shooglenifty take to the stage with a typically laid-back opening, the floor in front has been cleared of audience, temporarily, and the dancers of Plan B join the floor from the crowd. While each dancer circles the floor they quietly establish eye contact with audience members then, having introduced themselves, after a fashion, by degrees they guide a few to the floor and into a gentle Gay Gordons, probably the best known of the Scottish Country Dance repertoire. There’s a subtle pick up of pace and a few more of the audience join in. Everything seems quite refined, but there’s also an underlying current hinting there’s a lot more in store.
And so the evening continues. While Shooglenifty maintain their performance on the stage above the dancers, Plan B alternate between executing Frank McConnel’s formal set pieces and wordlessly introducing the audience to the floor with casual steps and routines. The set pieces are intricate and skilfully presented. It’s also to the dancers’ credit that the audience don’t revert to watching the stage at these times, but remain in place, drawn to the dancers performance not only by their artistic merit, but also through the community spirit fostered during the participative dances.
The dancers’ ability to guide the audience is wonderful to watch, and perhaps not so easy to spot if you’re joining in. They’re able to bring people to floor (or notice people joining in of their own accord) and steer them towards a general pre-planned type of dance. Nothing as formal as traditional dances being introduced during a ceilidh, just subtle guidance on steps and format – it’s all very organic and natural. The dancing becomes more ambitious as the evening wears on; standard steps in twos and three move on to more complex reels or even a gradually growing, snaking line of dancers looping around itself tighter and tighter until it becomes a tight scrum of dancers in the middle of the stage, which then suddenly untangles itself in an explosion of smiles. At one point a simple reel even developed into a frantic game of chicken with longer and longer lines of dancers careering across the floor at each other, with total trust in their ability to stop, or bridge their arms. By the time the dancers have encouraged people to the floor for the last time (and most no longer need any encouragement), Shooglenifty have drifted into full techno-ceilidh mode and the audience are right there with them.
The Shoogle Project, having completed its mission, winds down and the performers take the stage together to receive the exuberant appreciation of the crowd. After a few chants of ‘One more tune!’ from the floor, Angus Grant steps up to the front again… ‘Do you mind if we do two?’… and so the party continues…
It could be argued that the format of this performance devalues Shooglenifty’s contribution, and at times it certainly feels like the band are there merely as backing music for the dance. But this show isn’t all about watching Shooglenifty perform live. It’s about dance; giving in to the music and allowing your body to respond, it’s about community; social interaction and communication, and it’s about enjoyment; the sheer exhilaration and natural feeling of well-being associated with both music and dance. And just as importantly – as Angus Grant of Shooglenifty has always maintained, their music is about dance. This event goes a long way towards reinforcing that assertion.
So, ‘part gig, part show, part ceilidh, but most importantly, simply a good night out’? A good night out is rarely as good as this.
Video from the Night
The Shoogle Project,
Celtic Connections, 22nd January O2 ABC, Glasgow
Photo Credit: Reel Festivals 2011