Wednesday, 2 September 2009

State of the Art Human Towers at Sant Fèlix in Vilafranca

Sunday, August 30, was the Day of Sant Fèlix, the main exhibition of human towers during the festa major of Vilafranca del Penedès. This annual event draws a lot of spectators – this time as many as 15.000 people – since you are guaranteed to see the best castells of the season. The four teams (colles) which are invited to participate always have a solid record of building constructions with 9 levels (colles de nou) and this is the day and place when they give their best. Only the bi-annual Concurs de Castells in Tarragona is more prestigious in that sense.

The strong tradition of this day of human towers (diada castellera) can, in fact, be said to have rescued this art from disappearing. Historically, castells were very popular in the area from Tarragona to the Penedès, but in the late 19th century the masses started to prefer new social activities like sardana dancing (!) and sports. That resulted in a major decline, usually called the decadence (decadença), which lasted for some 50 years and lead to a reduction of levels in the towers built from nine to seven. During this period, the Vilafranquins were many times the only people in Catalonia who contracted castellers for their festa major and also actively helped to build them. This served as a motivation for the classic teams from Valls not to give up their skills. With that in mind, I clearly think that the plaça de la Vila here deserves its epithet as the "number one human tower square" ("la plaça més castellera").

This year especially the green coloured local team always made use of its right to try again when a tower collapsed and that made the program quite long (more than 4 hours). More than once did the audience – many of whom themselves practising castellers, judging from their t-shirts – whistle when the time for preparation felt exaggerated. Now, perfection has its price and we must not complain since in return we were received proofs of bravery and commitment in many impressive attempts to, completed or even successfully dismantled human towers, five of which from the highest category (la gamma extra).

The Castellers de Vilafranca opened the day with the – for them – consolidated 4 de 9 amb l’agulla (9 levels, 4 people per level and dismantled via a pillar) and made a breath taking attempt (intent) to build to build a 3 de 10 (10 levels, 3 people per level) in the second round. The Colla Joves Xiquets de Valls completed (carregat) their emblematic 5 de 9 amb folre (9 levels, 5 people per level) and then the Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls completed and dismantled (descarregat) a pillar of 8 levels (pilar de 8). The final attempt to a castell with an equivalent difficulty was an attempt by Vilafranca to build a 3 de 9 amb l’agulla.

Except for this, we were presented two torres de 9 (9 levels, 2 people per level) first by the Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls and then by the Castellers de Vilafranca – both completed and dismantled (descarregats). The fourth participating team – the Minyons de Terrassa – had to make do with a 3 de 9 and a 4 de 9 as their best achievements of the day – a disappointment for them but at the same time totally beyond reach for most other colles castelleres.

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N.B: On August 31 – in a local human tower exhibition together with the Xicots de Vilafranca - the Castellers of Vilafranca managed to complete and dismantle the 3 de 9 amb l’agulla. That has never been done before.

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Technorati tags: Castellers, Catalonia, Festa Major, Human Towers, Penedès, Vilafranca

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