‘It symbolises the end of the year and the new one beginning’: folk dance in Romania

The photograph is part of a personal project called Ritual, which documents costumes and traditions across the north-east of Romania. In 2018, I spent the winter travelling to various festivals where I set up a mobile studio to photograph the participants in their costumes in front of a black backdrop. These festivals are unique and have an incredible energy – everyone has a great time dancing and singing. This particular image was captured at a festival in Botoșani.

It’s different from the rest of the series because of the colourful costumes and the size of the group. And getting them to stand against the snow created a good contrast. First, I asked them to pose, but after a few seconds I asked them to dance so I could capture more of the detail in their costumes, which have been very well preserved over the years.

The boys are from a village called Cerbul de la Buhalnița Ceplenița (The Stag from the Buhalnița Ceplenița). They come prepared with a song and dance, which they perform in front of a judge and the public. They present the traditional tale of the stag, and sing and dance in a ceremony which includes a drama with mystical echoes. Even though the stag is not present in this image, and usually takes your focus from the rest of the group, I was fascinated by the other dancers and their uniquely detailed costumes.

The costumes, the music and the dance may change from area to area, but the storyline stays the same. These ceremonies are like plays, in which the main character – one of the magical animals, in this case the stag – dies and revives, symbolising the end of the present year and the beginning of the new one. The ritual, which makes amazing use of masks, is mainly based on the eternal fight between good and evil or life and death. It is a truly authentic folk creation.

• Watch a video of the dance on YouTube.

Alecsandra Raluca Drăgoi is a photographer based in London. See more images in this series on Instagram


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