During the Festa Major last year, did I try to explain that I, a native Swede, had difficulties to get accustomed to the Catalan fire culture, but that over the time, I have learnt to love it. Well, here in Vilanova i la Geltrú you almost have to, do you not?
In this town’s church accounts from 1710 you can find a cost specified as 'fire crackers for the mulassa (monster donkey) and its accompanying devils', and that is why in 2010, our local devils celebrate their 300th anniversary. Back in history, the mulassa used to spit fire – a feature which subsequently has been dropped - and in 1779, the devils left her for the dragon, whom they kept company for half a century. Then, in 1832, they made a festival performance (entremès) in their own right during Arrivo - the Arrival of the Carnival King - and from that moment they are a separate entity – Ball de Diables de Vilanova i la Geltrú.
There have, admittedly, been ups and downs in people’s interest for diables. In the late 19th century, it became popular to practise sports and that resulted in what has been called a 'decadence' for the Catalan popular culture as a whole, including the ball de diables which ceased to exist in Vilanova. They returned only in 1947, when a few members of the social club Foment Vilanoví took up the tradition. The sixties again saw a number of Festes Majors without devils, but from 1972 and onwards they have been a stable element in the local popular culture. Vilanova currently houses six different teams: Ball de Diables de Vilanova, Tronats de Mar, Diablesses de la Geltrú, Ball d’Enveja, Diables de la Collada Sis Camins and Diables de ABP.
All teams wear colourful costumes which make them easy to identify. Those of Ball de Diables de Vilanova are always designed by local artists: in 1947 by Enric Cristòfol Ricart, in 1980 by Armand Cardona Torrandell; in 1995 by Joaquim Budesca and the current ones, from 2006, by Pep Duran.
What is typical for this part of Catalonia – Penedès and Camp de Tarragona – is that the devils make speeches. In a typical performance, Lucifer acts as the Master of Ceremonies, lets the devils read satirical verses and adds his own rhyming observations, before the Diablessa and the Archangel enter to round off the show. Earlier this year, there was in fact a parade where all verse-reading devil teams from Catalonia came together here in Vilanova: Ball de Diables de Vilafranca del Penedès, Ball de Diables de Sitges - Colla Vella, Ball de Diables de Torredembarra, Ball de Diables de Tarragona, Ball de Sant Miquel and Diables de la Riera de Gaià, Ball de Diables de Sant Quintí de Mediona, Ball de Diables del Vendrell, Ball de Diables de l'Arboç and, finally, Ball de Diables de Vilanova.
Yesterday we had a chance to see five local teams, plus diables from Mallorca and Tarragona plus the dragons of Vilanova and Geltrú dance around in the correfoc ("fire-run"). But the Festa has just started - on August 4, many teams will reappear in the Cercavila de la Vigilia and on August 5, Diables de Vilanova will make their annual stage performance and, of course, take part in the Cercavila del Vot del Poble.
Visca la Festa Major de Vilanova i la Geltrú!
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Des de 1710 Diables a Vilanova i la Geltrú - an exhibition of costumes, equipment and paintings related to ball de diables – can be seen in the Victor Balaguer Museum until September 5.
Sources and Inspiration:
Facebook: Ball de Diables de Vilanova i la Geltrú