El Ball de Diables (The Dancing of the Devils)
El Ball de Diables (Dancing of the Devils) is a Catalan tradition born in the Middle Ages from the street theatre of the minstrels, being the eldest written testimony of them from 1150. The Catholic Church used this kind of theatre to teach morality among the people, the Dancing of Devils was a representation common during religious festivities like Corpus Christi. The Devils used to run behind people, with fire, scaring them, yet always submitted to the power of Saint Gabriel, the angel. People took this tradition and turned it into a pagan festival, using the Devils to have fun and the theatre to mock politicians, governors, kings, and Catholicism itself.
The fire is a strong symbol of paganism, natural forces, and asterism: it is said that the devils representations were so powerful to ask for fertility of the crops. There is now no civil festivity in Catalonia without the appearance of the Devils and they are present, too, in religious acts like the festivities of Santa Tecla of Tarragona.
El Ball de Diables de Tarragona is more than 100 years old, in 2014 they will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the recuperation after the Spanish civil war and the following 40 years of a fascist dictatorship, when most Catalan traditions were banned.
For more than 6 years, I’ve been part of this cultural organisation – I feel belonging to that tradition – as it’s so representative of the Catalan culture. Valencia and the Balearic Islands are the only other locations to find this kind of cultural representation. During these years of membership I have documented el Ball, from inside: party, fire, craziness, sweat, alcohol, and community. Parents teach their children the tradition and families enjoy with a mixture of joy and fear: the danger of dancing under the fire of Hell. In carnivals, the Devils write verses and read them in public; criticising local politicians, governors and the government as well as and encouraging people to drink, party and engage in sexual activity.
Anna is a documentary photographer and urban anthropologist, based in Granada, Spain.