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A traditional sword dance which once extended across the entire Christian Mediterranean, but now only survives on the Croatian island of Korčula. As the name suggests, it has many affinities with the morisco dances of Spain, the Moors and Christians festivals which still take place in Spanish villages today, and even English morris dancing, a corruption - or so they say in Korčula - of the original form.

The Moreška is likely to have reached the Adriatic islands while they were under the domination of the Republic of Venice, to where it had spread from Spain; the first known instance of the dance took place in the Catalan town of Lleida in 1156 to celebrate the expulsion of the Moors from Aragon.

The name of Ruger given to one of the phases of the dance may be a corruption of Ruggiero, a Norman prince who ruled over Sicily at much the same time and ferociously battled the Saracens like any self-respecting Catholic prince.

The dance is performed by eighteen men and a woman, and, ever since 1947, a rather incongruous brass band. However, not all Moreška companies seem to use the band, and some stick to the whining accompaniment of the pig-shaped bagpipes commonly heard in the folk music of Istria somewhat to the north.

As performed in Korčula - versions elsewhere have differed, so that Corsica had a cast of 160 guards and Ferrara, for instance, threw in a dragon trying to devour the princess - the Moreška tells the story of the White King whose promised bride is abducted by the King of the Moors, or, as custom has it, the Black King. (Subtlety in folk dancing tends to be thin on the ground.)

Bula, the fiancée in question, is dragged on stage in chains by the Black King in the Moreška's opening scene, and remains fettered throughout the entire dance, making it far from the ideal part for a village girl who wants to slip off after the first ten minutes with the lad on second trombone.

The Kings cross swords and their eight-man armies then join in the fray in seven phases, or kolaps, each soldier thrusting and parrying against his opposite number or even two of them at a time. At the end of the fourth kolap, Bula attempts to intervene and offers her life in return for that of her beloved White King, but there's too much horn-locking going on by that point for either of them to back down now.

Needless to say, by the end of the seventh kolap, in which the Black guards are forced into an ever-narrowing circle around their King by the White advance, Bula and her man are reunited, and according to the Moreška's spoken passages - most of which have been trimmed for modern audiences - she is rewarded for her faithfulness with a 'chaste kiss'. Surely Bula must start to wonder if it was all worth it.

Several towns in Korčula maintain Moreška companies, to which it's something of a local honour to belong, and the crowns of those men lucky enough to play one or the other King are likely to become family heirlooms. Many of the swords, costumes and so on had to be replaced after World War II, although nobody thought fit to interfere with the tradition that the White King and his men are always clothed in red.

The companies take turns to visit Dubrovnik on summer Sundays and perform in front of St. Blaise's Church, a piece of unashamedly tourist-oriented pageantry which nonetheless doesn't detract from the skill needed to pull off the intricate manoeuvres of the kolaps. West End fight arrangers would love to meet some of these men, who at their best could almost show certain screen swashbucklers a thing or two.

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