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Moreška

-exciting traditional dance where real swords still spark the night -

 

Moreška is a sword dance-drama that combines pantomime, spoken word, and dance, and takes the form of a dispute over a girl between two groups of dancers, one clad in red and the other in black, each led by a king. It is performed in the town of Korčula and is a symbol of Korčulan identity. Namely, virtually all Korčulans learn the art, while those playing the key characters have a special role in transmitting it to younger generations.

 

  

  

The word 'Moreška' means 'Moorish' and it is derived from the Spanish adjective 'Morisco' or the Italian 'Moresco'. It is still not known for sure if the dance came to the Adriatic directly from Spain through roving Spanish sailors, or from Sicily or Italy when Dalmatia formed part of the Venetian Republic. We are also uncertain if it was originally a Moorish dance or a Spanish one, inspired by the struggle of Spanish Christians against the Moors. However, we do know that it is one of the oldest traditional European dances still performed and that records exist of it being danced in Lerida in 1156 in a form portraying a Christian and National victory over the Moors and their expulsion from Aragon.

 

From the 12th century and particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries, the dance spread to many Mediterranean countries: to Italy, Corsica, Sicily, Malta, France and through Spanish trade, to Flanders, Germany, and even to England. It was subject to frequent local variations, in regard to plot, protagonists, and eventually also to form. In most of the Mediterranean, the Moreška survived until the end of the 18th century and in Italy and Dalmatia till the close of the 19th century.

 

The Moreška arrived in Korcula in the 16th century, at the same time as it did in Dubrovnik. There are, however, no written records of the Korčulan dance until the beginning of the 18th century. Up to the first World War, the Moreška was "fought" only every few years - protagonists were often wounded and replaced by 'seconds' during the dance - between 1918 and 1939 it was performed every year under the aegis of the Gymnastic Society of Korčula. Nowadays, it is an exclusive Society (and 'club') of its own and the Moreška is performed much more frequently for the benefit of the many tourists who visit the Island. Every family in Korčula is proud to have one of its members dance in the Moreška, especially one of the key roles, which demand considerable talent and stamina. When the Black or the White Kings "retire" they are allowed to keep their crowns and these become valued family possessions.

 

 

Today, Korčula is the only island where Moreška is still danced with real swords in its original War-Dance form and where it has enjoyed a proud and almost unbroken tradition for over four centuries, though the text, music, and pattern of the dance have been slightly altered and shortened (the contest used to last for two hours!) over the years.

 

The introduction to the dance is a short drama in blank verse which sets the scene - four characters recite the verses: the enemy or the Black King, his father, Otmanovic, (a kind of Balkan mediator), the Hero or the White King, and the Bula or Moslem maiden, who is a peace-maker as well as a heroine.


If you are on one of our tours you will have a chance to see the show in Korčula town summer cinema in high season (July, August) on Mondays and Thursdays.

 

 

photos by Korkyra Baroque Festival