Wednesday, 06 March 2019 17:58

Kukerlandia 2019 – when festival means life

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Yambol is getting prettier and the town’s park is turned into a bright-colored town of kukeri. This year’s XXth edition of the International mummer's festival Kukerlandia gathered around  an even greater number of mummers than the previous editions. About 90 kuker troupes from 17 regions of Bulgaria performed ancient Surva rituals jumping and dancing around with 30 000 bells of different size on their belts accompanied by beating drums. The anniversary edition of the festival was held from 28th February to 3rd March. It was a colorful spectacle where fearful and funny sights combine. The colorful garlands all around the town created a wonderful atmosphere with a sensation of quirkiness in the air. Plenty of activities were offered throughout the four festival days. You could see children’s workshops and contests as well as animated movies on kuker legends. There was a parade of kuker’s masks each of which was three metres in height. Various thematic exhibitions were open for visiors. There were also special marketplaces around the town. You could watch the masquerade games where a large number of participants from Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, North Macedonia and Korea were dancing around. Yambol was a truly colorful place with spirit-lifting events happening around. 

28th February – the festival activities have begun. The start of the spectacular programme was marked by children’s folklore festivity entitled ‘I am a little kuker!’ (‘Az sam kukerche’). The afternoon saw the Animated Kukerlandia initiative happen. Children were having fun participating in drawing workshops at the Bezisten Cultural and Information Centre. The latter is an emblematic building in town where the Animated Cinema Programme of the Festival was held. The place was packed with people of different age gathering around ready to watch the movies. The beginning of the event was marked by the projection of a movie called The legend of the first kuker. An Awards Ceremony was held to celebrate the creation of the best kuker masks for the Municipal Children’s Complex contest. The mayor of Yambol, Mr Georgi Slavov, handed down each winner’s award personally. All the children eventually settled down with their awards to watch the remarkable selection of short films in delight. We also saw ‘The Dragon’(‘Azdaja’, Bosnia and Herzegovina), followed by Bulgarian ‘Red and White’ short (‘Cherveno I Byalo’). The latter tells us about the magic of the Bulgarian amulet martenitza. Probably the most impressive and influential of all films was the seven-minute short of young producer Velislava Gospodinova entitled ‘Firebird’ (‘Zhar ptitza’). It’s funny how a short movie could create an atmosphere of Silence where the only sound a person can feel is one of rapture. 

1st March – a morning of bright blue skies with little clouds occasionally showing up to remind us of the beginning of the new month. The seagulls were yelling in tune with the weather telling urban legends about kukeri. Red and white strands were everywhere and the wind had been playing around with them for days much to the delight of the birds. Yambol seemed ready to welcome the spring The daily programme of the Animated Kukerlandia featured an even larger number of entertaining children’s short films from France, Slovenia, Georgia, Latvia and many other countries. The euphoric atmosphere became evident when the festival literally took over the town in the early afternoon. Kukerlandia’s symbol in the form of six-metre high kuker’s mask was taken to the streets of Yambol along with other smaller masks on a carnival parade. Masked kukeri and countless number of people were going around the moving totems. The parade walked throughout the street of Rakovski going by the Theatre House and stopped next to the Bezisten building guarding its western entrance.  Each of the passers-by seemed to take a selfie or have a picture of themselves with the gigantic masks taken to capture the event. Despite their spectacular size, the guardian masks looked tiny compared to the special anniversary mask. They were still hairy, toothy, scary and colorful totems big enough to catch people’s attention standing high above the crowd. As soon as the parade was over, the stage in front of the Bezisten building saw Bulgarian pipers play Rhodope bagpipes. The mesmerizing sound spread around the whole venue. The lights were on and the Bulgarina vocal trio started singing with their angelic voices. Ensemble Chinary gave a magical performance in front of the public. Kukeri going around with lit torches followed. Spectacular fireworks marked the end of the impressive evening programme. This is what happened during the Opening Ceremony of the XXth edition of Kukerlandia.

2nd – 3rd March – the masquerade games took place throughout the final two days of the festival. Three stages hosted the show-offs and tricks with performers from Bulgaria, countries of Europe and beyond impressing the public. The parade of the masked people being the festival’s main event started at 10 o’clock stacking mummers up and along the first stage in the Town’s Park. There were crafts corners, grill stations and kids’attractions all over the place. You could also see the main attraction of  the Kuker town - gigantic kuker’s masks placed around the park lanes. Yambol was about to witness these monsters’ live-action performances. They were reenacting traditional rituals to promote fertility and drive the evil spirits away from town welcoming the spring much to the delight of the spectators. 87 troupes of mummers (kukeri, survakari, mechkari and dervishi) were about to compete against each other in a unique spectacle on stage to pick out the best performers.

This was a truly remarkable event. Bells small and big were ringing about and drums were being played out loud. Some figures masked as bears were playing around with local girls chasing them about the lanes. Many people’s faces were marked with streaks of soot as a good-luck charm. Some mummers were dressed in costumes combining animal hair, feathers, teeth and nails while others were wearing colorful national costumes with different embroideries. You could also come across innocent children and gentle maidens playing in the spectacles. Priests were swinging around lamps with burning incense. They were blessing the spectators waving branches of soaked boxwood about. Doctors were saving both people and animals in other kind of performances. You could see amusing sights that were both scary and funny at the same time. People’s good mood was contagious and all of them were genuinely having fun regardless of their age.

Bulgaria’s national holiday was marked with a special ceremony held at the central town square early before the start of the parade. Then came the kuker procession and other types of onstage performance entertaining people right until the closing of the festival.

Kukerlandia is an annual festival. Each year we’re seeing even more colorful costumes, an increasing number of participants and a growing public attention.  

I hope you could feel the atmosphere of the festival. I promise to be present at next year’s edition of Kukerlandia again!

We Hear You team’s first glimpse of the festival was during last year’s edition. We enjoyed this spectacular range of events again in 2019, when Kukerlandia’s twentieth anniversary was  marked. I’d like to say special thanks to Yambol’s Municipal Enterprise ‘Tourism and Culture’ for providing the team with the opportunity to document the event and spread the festivity emotions!

You could see the festival events photographed in this gallery.

Article and photo credits: Christina Tchoparova

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