Shoemaker's dance and the celebration of the 1st of May

May Day was celebrated in Dubrovnik with a special dance performed by noblemen and noblewomen until 1432, after which it was performed by the Shoemakers' Guild. On the day, the shoemakers celebrated their patron saint, St. James. Although the dance's choreography remains unknown, it is believed that it was a chain dance which included line dancing, going under an arch made by another couple and passing other dancers by in 24 dance figures. The dancers had a lead dancer who taught them the dance and led the performance. The shoemakers performed the dance in front of the Duke's Palace, performing several figures inside it and ending the performance with a few final select choreographic elements in front of the porch. The music accompanying the dance was performed by the musicians of the Palace's chapel, as evident from a decree of the Small Council of 1779, which orders the Duke's musicians to be at the service of the shoemakers during their dance before the Duke. The question of what the dance looked like may be answered by a book by Giacomo Filippo Tommasini, the bishop of Novigrad, under the title Povijesno-zemljopisne bilješke o provinciji Istri ("Historical and Geographical Records on the Province of Istria") from 1641. In the book's chapter "Costumanze nell' Istria", he describes the dance of St. James in Buje in front of the eponymous church. During the performance, the dancers carried bows decorated with flowers, which links the dance with the old ballo della verdura dance. Dances with bows decorated with greenery and flowers as part of May Day celebrations can be found elsewhere in Europe – for example, the ball de cerolets in Spain or the mayflower moriss dance with bows in England. Like the tailors' dance, this dance was also a cerchiata. The character of Bembelj represented a kind of anthropomorphic incarnation of the month of May, whose role in the May Day ceremony was equal to that of the three masks that completed the performance of the Carnival tailors' cerchiata. In Italy, May was identified with the gonfalon selvaggio, which was a forest branch or standard decorated with greenery. In Dubrovnik, it was called a standal, whereas in Germany and England, it was known as Maibaum and maypole respectively. It symbolised love and spring. The Molise Croats called it Majo and believed it brought fertility and satiety. While carrying the eponymous puppet decorated with plants and flowers, they sang the song Ko je reka ka Majo nimaše doći? ("Who Said that Majo Wouldn't Come?"). The character of Bembelj in Dubrovnik was interpreted as a prpac who brought fertility and the origin of his name is linked to the Albanian word fendelë – “beans”, or faba – “fava bean”. Considering that, in Ancient Rome, the bean was known as the cult plant Silvana, our Bembelj, i.e. wild or forest man, was also connected with this. Seeing that the etymology of his name has not been explained to this day, we can also mention other interpretational possibilities: thus, the name may derive from the Italian word bimbo – “boy” or from a compound of the Italian words ben and bello, "good" and "beautiful", which were used to invoke the blessing of spring. Bembelj was a man dressed in fur with snake lizards in his hand and around his head. It is unknown whether Bembelj participated in the dance itself, although this is very likely, but he did participate in the shoemakers' procession around the city and to the convent of Saint James in Višnjica, thus completing the street theatre. In the 16th century, for the procession, Nikola Sasin wrote the song Mužika od crevljara modelled on the Italian burlesque, such as the song Calzolai by Alfonso de' Pazzi. The accompanying music to the shoemakers' dance and the procession songs have not been preserved. In 15th century Florence, the ballad Ben venga maggio by Angelo Poliziano was sung at public festivities. The Dubrovnik Bembelj and the Molisan Majo have their counterpart in Green George from north-western Croatia, as well as in similar spring characters elsewhere in Europe, such as Jack in the Green in England. Public May festivities in Dubrovnik also included the planting of the May tree and dancing the wheel dance around it. This tradition originated in Western Europe. The May tree was planted by groups of noblemen aged 10 to 18, that is, 18 to 20 in the 17th and 18th century. The groups—the Nikolini and the Kastelani—were formed based on the town neighbourhood to which they belonged and they each had an admiral and a page. From Whit Saturday to May Day, they collected green branches and stole them from one another, throwing rockets and fireworks to feign war, which reminds of spring ritual battles whose remnants are still preserved in chain sword dances. Just before May Day, they would plant a large pole decorated with collected pine twigs into the ground, after which they would go visit the duke and the bishop, as well as sing koledas elsewhere. During the night, each group would guard the pole from the other one, which would try to set fire to it. On 1st and 2nd May, young people had an obligation to dance the wheel dance around the May tree, just as their ancestors had done. Drinking songs were sung in front of the pole and finally, on 3rd May, it would be set on fire. This battle between the Nikolini and the Kastelani (or Rokotini and Nikolini in Cavtat at Carnival time) in Dubrovnik is a direct projection of a Venetian custom as described in Giuseppe Boeri's Dictionary of the Venetian Dialect under the entry "moresca", namely, as a battle between two groups of children, the Nicolotti and the Castellani and their training, dance and feigning war during public festivities. Since it has ben established that young men and adults danced around the May tree, it can be assumed that they danced the ribbon dance as well. Young people also danced in the City Hall—it is known that, just before May Day 1438, the City Hall housekeeper was prohibited from giving the keys to it to young noblemen, who used to dance there, without the permission of the Small Council. The ribbon dance, Bandltanz, was a custom in Alpine countries, but also in Spain and the Kingdom of Naples, from where it could have spread to Dubrovnik. Apart from in Dubrovnik, the custom of dancing around the May tree was recorded on Vis and Hvar. According to Juraj Dulčić, the ribbon dance known as dracija, or della brezzia, was danced on the island of Vis. First, a tall stake with 24 different-coloured ribbons on top would be driven into the ground. Twelve of the dancers wore exquisitely ornamented white suits and the other twelve wore colourful ones. The first group of dancers were known as "white", and the second as "black" (like in the moreška). Both groups of dancers were initially set in two opposing lines. Each dancer would catch one ribbon and dance around another dancer, so that the ribbons interwove and the stake remained entangled. Afterwards, they would disentangle the stake in the same order.