We arrived at the hall early to make our final preparations for the gig. Instruments, stands, chairs and various other bits & bobs were carefully positioned, strings were tuned, microphones were tapped and one-two'd, and our stage attire was given a careful last check. All being well we sat down to await the start of the evening's programme.
Getting sessions to begin on time during large events is always a challenge, especially so with the first slot where people are greeting old friends, the logistics haven't quite bedded in, and the million and one things that hadn't been foreseen suddenly pop up and have to be dealt with. But somehow order was coaxed and bullied out of the chaos and a mere fifteen minutes after the scheduled start time all 250 of us were arranged in circles around the spectacular centrepiece, each person holding an unlit candle and a square of cellophane to provide a decorative yet protective wax catcher. We were taught the simple dance that was to be the starting dance for every evening's programme, were attuned to the spirit of the festival (in Portuguese, but Frances provided a simultaneous translation), lit our candles, and as the music started the festival of dance began.
The music itself was, to my ears, very cheesy and clichéd, sounding like an extended version of a 60s TV show theme, but the atmosphere generated by so many people dancing in a big hall lit purely by candlelight was magical. An excellent start.
While we were being arranged and organised at the startI'd jokingly asked Lucy to guess when we'd actually start playing. She'd gone for 25 minutes after the opening ceremony had started while I'd gone for 35, and it was good to see youthful optimism triumphing over crusty cynicism. At 9:10pm we were up on stage, the dance had been taught, and it was time to, er, face the music.
We were starting with Enas Mythos, an old favourite from the early days of Sacred Dance that had been requested by the organisers and that we'd learnt specifically for our Brazilian trip. I'd long since stopped teaching it as it had become tediously familiar over the years and didn't feel 'authentic' to me, but returning to it as a musician I'd found that it was actually quite a nice tune. It was a bit of a risk to start off with it as it was still a bit fresh and 'green' in our repertoire but we played it well and it went down to general approval and applause.
We'd survived the difficult first dance. However it wasn't really typical of our style so the next one was likely to be the real test. We'd gone for Lute Lute / Buka Ere, a Rom (Gypsy) medley that went from a deceptively quiet start to a full-blooded finish featuring Rory on gajda, the fearsome Balkan goatskin bagpipe. As we thundered along I could see the dancing line weaving back and forth, filling the hall with a tumultuous tangle of happily bouncing dancers, and as we sounded our dramatic climax we were met with a roar of cheering and applause. We had passed the test with honours, distinction and would probably have received a row of gold stars too if they had been available.
The rest of our set was met with similar acclaim. We'd planned on a varied selection of tunes to show off our range and versatility and they'd all gone down really well. In a final display of professionalism we finished on the dot of the hour we'd been asked to fill, took our final bows, and stepped back to let the rest of the evening proceed while we basked in our well deserved pride.
The remainder of the programme was made up of dances to recorded music, which turned out to consist of a rather odd selection, at least from my perspective. Mostly fun and bouncy dances they ranged from (vaguely) familiar 'oldies' through to unusual choreographies with strange musical accompaniment - the weirdest being one that sounded like a japanese TV commercial. It was all good fun and we all stayed on and joined in with the frivolity.
Eventually the evening came to a close and after a short visit to the bar for a couple of celebratory Brazilian beers it was jiggedy-jig back home to hose myself down and flop into my welcoming bed. It had been an excellent way to start the festival and my forebodings had been put to rest. Could it continue this way?