White masks’ circle dance (kolo)

The white masks’ circle dance is a sword dance performed in the village of Putnikovići on the Pelješac peninsula during carnival season. It is danced by a masked group of men, the so-called white masks, arranged in a contra-dance formation, i.e. two lines of couples facing each other.  Half of the white masks play the role of women and the other half play the role of men, both in the carnival wedding procession and later during the dance. Swords are carried only by the masks playing male roles. Based on its choreography and role assignments, the white masks’ circle dance belongs to the group of so-called wedding sword dances. It is accompanied by the mješnice, a type of bagpipes with a double chanter. Before the dance takes place on a threshing floor, the broom and the bride are introduced to each other. The white masks’ procession arrives to the threshing floor in couples, each consisting of a male mask (carrying a sword) and a female mask. They are followed by pairs of local girls dressed in folk costumes that stop just outside the threshing floor and form a semicircle. The monitor (one of the male masks’ roles), wearing trousers with a red stripe along the trouser leg, stamps his foot to indicate that everyone is in their position and that it is time for the female masks that are in couples to let go of their partners’ hands. When he stamps his foot a second time, the male and female couples turn to face each other, forming two lines. At the third stamp of his foot, the male masks draw their swords and rest them on their shoulders. When the monitor stamps his foot for the fourth time, both the male and female masks take four steps back. The groom and the bride are then introduced to each other. The monitor approaches the bride (a female mask wearing a pink shirt and adorned with golden jewellery), bows to her and takes her to her chair with her arm under his. He then takes the groom’s arm in the same way and takes him to the chair next to the bride’s. They bow to each other and the groom sits down. The monitor then meets each of his dancers face to face and checks if they are equidistant from each other. He starts with the male masks. When both male and female masks have been properly arranged, the monitor swings his sword and approaches the groom, who in turn gets up and joins the monitor, swinging his sword in the air, too. The monitor goes back to his place and the groom checks on the masks once more. When he has done so, he goes to the bride, bows and takes her arm under his, leading her to her seat among the female masks. With another bow, he goes back to his seat. The male masks now raise their swords in the air, and the player stamps his foot to mark the beginning of the dance.

The dance is performed in the following way: the two facing lines of masks, male and female, dance toward each other, then change sides and direction. By stamping one foot on the floor, the male masks mark the end of the dance, and the masks take their initial positions, in two facing lines. The monitor then stamps his foot as a sign to the sets of masks to separate from each other by moving four steps back. They take off their white masks, put them into their hats or tuck them into their belts, and start dancing a polka with the local girls. The bride and the groom are the first to go and get a girl, followed by the other masks. The pairs dance until the groom shouts out: “Move to the side!” after which they form a circle dance formation – the kolo. The first is the flag bearer with his girl, to the right of which comes a pair consisting of a female mask and a girl, and so on, until the kolo is formed following the pattern: a male mask and a girl, a female mask and a girl, a male mask and a girl, and so on. The groom, who is in charge of the kolo, makes sure that everyone has taken his or her proper positions. He then gives out commands. At the first one – “One girl forward!” – the girls leave their original dancing partners and move on to the next ones. This command is repeated three to four times. The groom then calls out “Each girl to her partner!” and the girls leave their current partners and go back to their original partners, moving around with a polka step. When the groom calls out: “Get into twos!” the male and female halves of the white mask pairs get closer to each other, with a male mask and his girl at the outer rim of the kolo and a female mask on the inside of the kolo, but still close to each other. The next command – “Change!” – is repeated four times. At this command, the girls leave their male mask partners, spinning and moving towards the female masks. Dancing all the time, the newly-formed girl-female mask couples then change places with the male masks, taking their positions at the outer rim of the kolo, while the male masks move inside. After the “Change!” command has been shouted for the fourth time, the girls go back to dance with their original dancing partners once more, and the pairs form a kolo. After the last command –“Walk!” – has been called out, the polka dancing stops, and the pairs of dancers, together with the flag bearer who takes his flag from the host, leave the threshing floor. The masks then eat and drink and socialise with their hosts. When they have finished, they thank the hosts for their hospitality and the white masks’ procession moves on to the next village.

Author: Valentina Vitković

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