Dancing Cutty Sark! Figures of Speech this Friday

Hello all! After a hectic, wonderful weekend of gigs, I’m spending this week in rehearsals for a brand-new commission. This year the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Edinburgh City of Literature have joined forces to produce Figures of Speech, a series of events bringing together writers and artists to take you on a road trip through Scottish literature for Scotland’s Year of Stories. Each event focuses on a theme within Scottish lit (music, friendship, future, love, place, big ideas) and features a conversation between two experts in the field, plus a newly commissioned live performance responding to the theme.

L-R: Nicola Meighan, Katie Ailes, Arusa Qureshi, Miriam Morris. Photo credit: Colin Hattersley.

I was delighted to be invited to create new work for the first event in the series, themed around music in Scottish literature. Even more exciting, I was asked to create a dance/poetry piece, combining original text and choreography. As folks who’ve followed this blog for a while will know, I’m fascinated by the intersection between movement and text, and some of my favourite projects over the paste several years have brought those two art forms together (check out ‘Breathing Space’ and ‘Polos,’ for example).

The two experts in conversation at this event will be arts writers / broadcasters Nicola Meighan and Arusa Qureshi. They’ll narrate a musical journey through Scottish literature – from Burns to Bemz, via Belle Stewart, Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay, John Byrne, David Keenan, Kirstin Innes and Nova – and explore the country’s enduring affinity with words and songs. I’m very much looking forward to their discussion!

L-R: Katie Ailes, Nicola Meighan, Arusa Qureshi. Photo credit: Colin Hattersley.

For my creative response, I spent ages poring over Scottish tales, both literary and legendary, considering how music featured in these stories. After exploring lots of characters that were new to me, I eventually returned to a familiar one: Nannie Dee, or ‘Cutty Sark,’ from Robert Burns’ notorious poem “Tam O’Shanter.” I’m fascinated by how she’s portrayed in this classic piece: wholly objectified, infantilised, sexualised, and made dangerous through these qualities. So, of course, I knew I wanted to twist the narrative by telling her side of the story! My performance embodies Nannie Dee to consider how women in music have often been sexualised and vilified through Scotland’s cultural history.

This piece has been months in the making and I’m so excited to share it with you! Figures of Speech: Music takes place at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Friday, 20th May at 7:30pm. There will be a live BSL interpreter onstage. Book your tickets now!

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