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Elfrida Koroleva

Antiquity traits in Moldavian folk dance and ballet

Koroleva, Elfrida: “Antiquity traits in Moldavian folk dance and ballet”, …

It is customary to enumerate the Thracians among the most ancient ancestors of Romanians and Moldavians. The interest to the former results not only from the necessity to study regional traits of the art of the latter but is also connected with problems related to the development of Western European culture as a whole.

As early as the 3rd millennium B.C., in the artistic culture of political centres of Bosnia, Thessaly and Thrace, there emerged certain traits of semblance with the art of Crete and Mycenae, inevitably adapted to represent a provincial variant of the metropoly.

In the course of the centuries to follow, the close ties existing between the population of the Balkan region, Moldavia, and Near East proceeded to consolidate in the diverse fields of human activity - commercial, political, economic, military, cultural, etc. The traces of the Thracians were discovered at the excavation site near ancient Troy. In his "Iliad" Homer states that Thracian tribes rose to defend Troy against Agamemnon's Achaeians. Ancient Greeks wrote about Thracian gods and heroes, rites and customs. Homer characterized Dionysus as an exclusively Thracian god [1]. In the writings by Herodotus one can read about a Thracian tribe of Satyrs, an extremely warlike tribe which lived high in the mountains never to be subdued by anyone, and which held possession of the famous prophesy altar of Dionysus [2].

According to Herodotus, Thracians despised land-cultivating occupations. They worshipped only three gods: Ares, Dionysus, and Artemis (i.e. the god of war, the god of fertility, and the goddess of birth). In the words of Herodotus, their rulers, as distinct from other people, preferred Hermes to all other gods and swore only on him, considering themselves descendants of Hermes [3].

It is not by chance that military dances were attached magic importance to with the Thracians. In Ancient Rome there existed legends related to the events of the eighth year of emperor Numa's rule: stricken with plague, Rome was paralyzed, but a brass shield fell from the skies into Numa's hands. The emperor declared the shield's appearance a means of salvation for the city of Rome and ordered to make 11 more similar shields so that

plague couldn't distinguish those "dashed down by Zeus". Salian priests were entrusted to keep and guard the shields. They were named Salians after a certain Salius, a person of Samothracian or Mantinean origin who was the first to teach people to dance with

arms. This dance was performed yearly in March and consisted of leaps and quick turns in which one could see "as much easiness as there was force" [4].

It was not by a mere coincidence that the myths reflected Thracian roots of magic military dances. Warlike Latins who preferred horce-races to all other arts have never been

distinguished for their art of dancing. In order to propitiate their gods with dances the Romans used to resort to borrowing them from other peoples - Etruscans or Thracians. The Thracians, having for a long time retained their military democracy stage of development, tended to impart magic features on military dances even at a time when their Greek and Roman neighbours were using dances only as part of theatrical performances, as a unique means of bodily training and spiritual education, or as recreation.

Thanks to the conservative character of their provincial life-style in the period of the last centuries of the pre-christian era, the Thracians tended to retain more traits of their Mycenaean culture. They performed warlike dances devoted to Dionysus which became customary in Hellenistic surroundings especially after Alexander's campaigns [5].

It is striking to recognize the movements characteristic of the Cretan Curetes in Moldavian dances, although the Moldavians survived lengthy and contradictory processes in their formation as a nationality. Though these dances are no longer performed with arms nor bear any warlike character, there exists a strong semblance between them (see: Fig.1 - a Curetan dance on a terracotta relief from Crete; Fig.2 - one of the movements

characteristic of the "Moldoveneasca" dance). One can easily observe the same energetic leaps of the dancers towards each other with one leg bent and the other stretched behind.

Although military dances are not performed in Moldavia since the early 19th century, the lexic of the most ancient warlike dances has been retained in many Moldavian and Romanian ritual and customary dances. One of the most vivid examples is the

"Calusarii" ("Calusharii") dance, the most attractive and enigmatic one in Romanian and Moldavian choreography. For many decades it has been drawing the attention of historians,

ethnographers, and choreographers. A simple enumeration of their works devoted to this dance would compile a profound bibliography reference-guide. That is why I will confine myself to references to one of the existing bibliographical dictionaries and certain

works tackling individual aspects of the dance [6].

For the purpose of my report I will single out only those traits of this dance which underline its semblance with the military dances of the Antiquity. In the 1720s the dance was performed during the seventh week after Easter. In order not to be recognized the dancers covered their faces with white kerchiefs and were speaking in women's voices. They were holding naked swords in their hands ready to strike anyone who would have the

courage to uncover their faces. Some of the dances were performed with great skill, so that the performers seemed not to touch the floor at all as if soaring in the air [7].

Among the most characteristic features of the Calusarii dances still performed nowadays one can observe leaps and quick turns made with "as much easiness as there is force" (see Fig. 3, 4). In this regard they resemble the descriptions of Salian dances borrowed by Ancient Rome from Samothracians. Strabo confirms the validity of such a hypothesis. According to his data, sacred rites of the Curetes resembled those of the Samothracians.

Curetes were considered god-inspired or somewhat distracted. While performing sacred rites as god's priests they used to scare their flock with military dances, clad in full armour,

accompanied by cymbals, timbrels, the clank of arms and moreover by the flute and ritual outcries [8]. By the end of the 18th century Moldavians and Romanians were prohibited from carrying arms. The fact found its reflection in dances. Arms were replaced by sticks. So, the Calusarii proceded to dance with sticks, as one can see in Fig. 3, 4.

However, we should say that the "Hora" dance is the most striking example of the way the features of ancient Greek dances were retained in Moldavian and Romanian choreography. Until the early 20th century, the notion of hora denoted both a dance performed at a moderate tempo, aligned in a circle and sometimes accompanied by singing, and the dancers themselves, as well as the very place for holding this original "village ball". The

movements of the large number of dancers used to express the sense and content of the accompanying singing.

The Moldavian and Romanian word "hora" originates from the Greek "choros". In the epoch of Homer the word "choros" was also used in Greece to denote the dance itself, its performers, and performance place [9]. In ancient Greek Sparta "choros" meant "a

special site in the centre of the agora in which was performed the gymnopaedia, the main dance of the Lacedoemonians" [10]. And although at present there exist differing interpretations of the etymology of choros, F. G. Naerebout, after a thorough comparison

of all the view-points, arrived at the following conclusion: "either way, however, the basic meaning seems to be or to imply a communal activity by people arranged in a file or a circle in a circumscribed space" [11].

Nowadays hora is still one of the most typical and popular Moldavian folk dances. There exist a multitude of modifications of the dance, e.g. "Hora of the bride", "Wedding hora", "Southern hora", "Hora from Balti", "Ilenutsa's hora". Sometimes the word "hora" is omitted, and the dance is named simply "A small sheep", "The flower", "The sheepfold", etc. However, today none of the dances is peformed to the accompaniment of singing. One of the hora variants is depicted in Fig.5. All Moldavian and Romanian dances are nowadays performed to the accompaniment of the taraf - a folk orchestra in which every instrument retains its specific sounding in the rich multi-coloured whole. The instruments are the fluier (pipe), the nai (the famous Pan's flute), cobza, violins, cymbals, drum, clarinet, trumpets, contrabass, accordeon, taragot, etc.

The ballet troupe of Moldova has also been manifesting its interest to the Antiquity choreography. In 1960, V. Polyakov composed the music for the ballet entitled "In Hellas". The ballet staging work started; unfortunately, the audience could not enjoy it because of certain intrigues occurring behind the scenes. In 1965, the ballet was replaced with another one named "Anthony and Cleopatra" staged by choreographer M. Lazareva to the music by E. Lazarev. Although its plot was based upon the motifs of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome, it should be noted that the theme of Caesar's sister Octavia in its spiritual and plastic harmony was approaching classical Greek images. Octavia and her retinue were contrasting with the fatal passions of the Egyptian queen and the Roman triumvirate. The impression produced by the plastic movements of the corps-de-ballet accompanying Octavia's solos was enhanced by the costumes resembling the lines of Doric columns.

More recently, in June 1998 the stage of the Moldovan Theatre of Opera and Ballet witnessed the premiere performance of "Dafnis and Chloe" on music Maurice Ravel, staged by Greek choreographer Eleni Chrysanthaki.


1. Homer: Iliad. VI. 132.

2. Herodotus: Istoria. Leningrad, 1972. VIII. III.

3. Ibidem. V. 6, 7.

4. Plutarch: Sravnitelnye zhizneopisania. Moskva, 1981, vol. I. Numa. XI. XIII.

5. Ivanov Vyach: Dionis i pradionisiistvo. Baku, 1923, p. 15.

6. Niculescu-Varone G.T. & Gaineriu-Varone E.C.: Dictionarul jocurilor populare romanesti. Bucuresti, 1979; Sachs, C.: World history of the dance. N.Y., 1937; Birlea O.: Eseu despre dansuri populare romanesti. Bucuresti, 1982; Koroleva E.A.: Calushary, in Sovetskaya etnografia. Moskva, 1991, no.5.

7. Cantemir, D.: Opisanie Moldavii. Kishinev, 1973. p. 159-160.

8. Strabo: Geografia. Moskva, 1964, vol. X, p. 430.

9. Naerebout, F. G.: Attractive performances. Ancient Greek dance: Three preliminary studies. Amsterdam, 1997, p. 275.

10. Raftis, Alkis: The world of Greek dance. Athens, 1987, p. 28.

11. Naerebout, F. G., op.cit. p. 179.

Elfrida Koroleva



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