ROMANIAN TRADITIONAL CUSTOMS DANCES WITH MASKS

ROMANIAN TRADITIONAL CUSTOMS DANCES WITH MASKS

From all traditional folkloric creations customs are the ones which draw the most the attention of the contemporary people because of their resistance in time and because of the multiple human and social values they carry along with them. At a shallow view customs may seem as folkloric manifestations, extensive and spectacular, but watching them closely we will discover that they have deeper meanings related to human relation with the world and with nature. They represent the relation between people and last but not least, they may provide with a solution for the things to be back in normal, if, from a reason or another, someone or something mined the world order. The traditional social life have a certain order and customs express different aspects of this order, as an authentic mechanism which creates and keeps order.

The science which studies folklore classified the folk traditional customs in two categories:
1. Calendar customs or “along the year customs”, which are structured in four cycles and correspond to the 4 seasons (Spring customs, Summer customs, Autumn customs and Winter customs);
2. Customs related to family life (which represent the most important moments in life: (birth, wedding, burial)

Always, and in all nations, holidays symbolized a passing, a step in the implacable lapse of time. As a cultural producer, the human being observed the lapse of time, the steps among years and seasons, among the periods of intense work such as agriculture, grazing, among the most important moments of his life (birth, marriage, death) and decided to put a mark on them with the help of customs and ceremonials. From this point of view, the “along the year customs” should be seen as pauses which endow with life our existence, steps which are made from a year to another, from an intense period of work to one of relaxation, as beginnings and endings. These endings should not be seen as a closure but as a new beginning.
In Romania, and especially in Modavia (the home land of the Folk Ensemble members), from all the along year manifestations, Christmas and New Years customs are the most treasured. The essential characteristic of this holiday is given by the joy and the confidence with which people celebrate the passing from one year to another, the beginning of a new period of vegetation, a new period from their life and the one of their fellow men. Those 12 days (from 25th of December to 6th of January) cover a succession of ceremonies and customs which have the purpose to offer congratulations and to wish for the best. The transition to a new year symbolizes the passing from what we lived to what we will live, from what we know to what we will know, from what we did to what we want to do. Not only the rich repertory of customs (carols, dances with masks, popular theatre performances) but also the traditional customs of people (they adorn their homes, prepare special drinks and rich meals, have all kind of parties and special dances) all these preparations are made with the belief that New Year is a holiday of new beginnings, as Latin say Festum incipium. And it is known that how the beginning will be so the whole year to come will be.

The traditional popular mentality says that the year that passed (The Old Year) will end in his last night, in a state of chaos. It is the moment when sky opens and gives permission to this world to communicate with the other world. Beauty and ugliness, good and bad are mixed in a vertigo which takes the form of a carnival. When we say “carnival” we say masks and disguise, dance and pantomime. A carnival gives people the opportunity to become, only for one day, somebody else or something else, to hide behind masks for everything they do to be permitted. The mask assures the one wearing it a new identity and complete freedom of his actions.
In Moldavian villages over one hundred winter customs were recorded and they all belong to the dances with masks category. The most known are: “The Goat Dance”, “The Stag Dance”, “The Horse Dance”, “The Bear Dance”. The zoomorphic masks: the goat, the stag, the horse, the bear represent the leading characters of the show around whom there are other secondary characters. Most of them are anthropomorphous masks representing old men, old ladies, devils, gypsies, tradesmen, doctors. Their purpose is to act all kind of funny scenes improvising and making a lot of noise in order to cheer up the audience. Protected by obrazare (masks that cover only the head) or by the costume-masks (which covers the entire body) the characters that perform with masks have the role to banter, to expose and to sanction everything that was out of order during the year which has just passed. This moment is considered to be adequate for purification and foretelling. Gestures and words used are seen as ways of controlling and chasing the Evil.
People who wear masks are characters suggesting certain disabilities, not only physical but moreover moral ones, such as: laziness and dissoluteness, avidity and avarice, hypocrisy, cowardice and bragging.

Characters with masks from winter customs are called generic The Ugly. Along them there is another category represented by young people (boys and girls) who are dressed with festive clothes and singe nicely. They are called The Beautiful. These characters, The Ugly and The Beautiful seem contradictory. In fact, without pursuing the annulment of each other, the intention is to let them act in some kind of continuous tension. In conclusion, the harmony of the show is given by the equilibrium of contrasts and not by the absence of one or the other.
The masks used in winter customs are made of: fur, cloth, wood or copper. They are often adorned with sparkling materials: polish, beads, colored paper and fragments of mirror glass. They are made in secret long time before they are used. The ones who manufacture the masks are usually the ones who are wearing it, but often there are certain people in the village who have this occupation. They are paid for their work with money or in nature (with food products).
The custom must be carried out correctly and because of that a special care must be awarded to its shape. Respect for tradition and care for the shape of customs made from the traditional villages places which provide people with skills and interest in preparing dances with masks in a professional way.
Seen as communication acts, dances with masks use a complex language which combines verbal expressions with music and choreography, gesture and mimic or they are simply classical representations. All these ways of communication are interdependent, they complete each other and finally assume, together or independently, the task of sustaining the message expressed through these folk manifestations.

Music and dance are always present in shows with masks. They give life to characters performances, a certain rhythm to the scenes and dynamism to the pantomime moments. In most cases the choreography of the shows with masks is inspired by the rural fetes which take place on Sundays. The basic rhythms of the dances are binary and the bar is double time. There are many contra-tempos and, in some situations, the accent from these rhythms shifts through syncope. Besides binary rhythms, there are ternary rhythms with triple time bar as in “Muşamaua” Dance, 3/8 bar as in “Horă de mână”, as well as binary rhythms in ternary subdivision with 6/8 bar as in old round dances.
The music from the shows with masks is formed by the tunes of the dances reminded before, tunes with a simple construction, with 2, 3, 4 or more musical phrases each with 4 or 8 measures. The musical instruments used are: flute, bagpipe, cobs, violin, dulcimer, trumpet. Lately, dances with masks are accompanied by bands with a large number of popular interpreters, and sometimes even by a brass band.

Nowadays, with no doubt what so ever, the scenario of Romanian traditional customs is changed. But we still can talk about some archaic reminiscences, some ritual sequences or the slightly presence of some magical gestures or items.

The traditional customs, specially those related to winter holidays, resisted in time because they have the ability of accepting during their evolution a functional change expressed by the loss of ritual and the enhance of the ceremonial and the artistic side. This phenomenon was very well represented by the Romanian man of science Mircea Eliade who said that the lack of magic is one of the essential aspects of the evolution of folkloric customs.
We hope that the theme chosen by us for this symposium will be better represented and understood watching the film “Traditions”, which was bring out several years ago in some Modavian places.

PETRE VLASE
Folk Ensemble “BUSUIOCUL”,
Director Bacau, Romania

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