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Sidmouth organisers optimistic in face of disease

The organisers of Sidmouth International Festival say they're hoping the UK's foot-and-mouth epidemic will not wreak havoc on one of the major events in the morris calendar.

The festival has already seen financial strain during the disastrous rains of 1997, when some campers had their tents washed away. On-the-day ticket sales were drastically reduced, and the international dance programme has been significantly cut back ever since - with a smaller number of foreign companies being brought in, and few staying for the full week.

As ever, some of the most flambuoyant morris teams will have the heady experience of appearing on the main Arena Theatre stage in early August.

The festival website boasts of the drama of Ouse Washes molly, "the fun filled dances of Great Western Morris" and the wild exuberance of Shropshire Bedlams border side, with its sister North West team, Martha Rhoden's Tuppenny Dish.

"There will be an abundance of clogs with Chinewrde Morris and Dorset Buttons North West Morris and a swathe of swords with North British, Dorset Buttons Rapper and Black Swan," says the website. "Last but not least comes Ditchling Morris with their lively dances and striking Wyvern."

But as the cow pats testify, the festival's main camp site and two of its major venues - the Bulverton and Bowd marquees - are all on farmland.

The organisers, Mrs Casey Morris, have issued a press release in response to concerns from festival-goers.

Director Steve Heap writes:
"Many of our regular visitors have recently been contacting us to ask, 'What if the foot and mouth disease continues through the summer?' Well, quite simply the answer is, 'We all very much hope it doesn't.'

"If I could repeat the latest information given to us by MAFF [the agriculture ministry], 'The key message for the general public is to avoid all contact with susceptible livestock and not to go on to farm premises or cross land where livestock are or may be kept.'

"However, we all hope that the all-clear will be given long before the festival season, so for potential visitors to Sidmouth International Festival we would recommend that you continue to plan as normal, book your festival tickets, book your accommodation/camp sites and support the festival and tourist industry.

"The festival will only be cancelled in extreme circumstances. If the festival is cancelled by a Government order due to the farms around our festival being an infected area by August, you will not lose the value of your ticket. We will either make a full refund or transfer your ticket money towards the price of a ticket at next year's festival, whichever you prefer.

"The planning for Sidmouth Festival takes over a year. Professional wages have to be paid, deposits on equipment, artists' bookings and publicity costs are already incurred. A cancellation imposed by the Government's decisions regarding foot-and-mouth would be a severe blow to the economic stability of the festival. However, we hope that your continued support would help us through this very difficult period.

"We offer best wishes and good luck to all the workers in trades and industries affected in our festival region and hope that we can all celebrate our festivals at their proper time."

Crisis or no crisis, the morris highlights have already been planned, according to the festival website:

"The Saturday evening - August 5 - features the sword tour of the pubs.

"The next day's morris starts with the English teams' procession, followed by the annual riot of dance and music on the Esplanade. Mid-afternoon features the John Gasson Jig Competition, while the evening is synonymous with the Morris Party. This year's unmissable extravaganza will be hosted by Great Western. Need we say more!

"Workshops are always popular and will provide opportunities to learn the secrets of the teams at the festival. In addition to a wide range of dance styles (Cotswold, North West, Border, Molly), there will be a taster workshop for beginners to have a go at one or two of the different types of morris.

"The grand finale for the dancers will be a special show starring the best of the English teams."

Sidmouth Festival runs from August 3 - 10 (Friday to Friday), 2001.

Sidmouth International Festival
Ouse Washes
Great Western Morris
Ditchling Morris

2001 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers

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