‘Basque. Basque Dance´, reissue of the collection dedicated to expressions of Basque culture

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


The map of traditional Basque dances is both rich and varied. Many people also combine traditional Basque dance with classical and contemporary styles in local or global settings. Oier Araolaza Arrieta has written a book on this subject called “Basque Corporeal Language”. ‘Basque. Basque Dance´ is the second book (after the one published on Architecture and Design) in the collection created by the Etxepare Basque Institute dedicated to twelve cultural expressions. Published eight years ago, the first edition has now been updated and the complete series will be released this year.

From traditional local dances to vanguard physical theatre, Araolaza delves into the identity of Basque dance. According to Araolaza, the deep attachment of the Basque people to their culture has kept a rich and spectacular repertoire of traditional dances alive while at the same time modernising with the times, and that today Basque dancers share a rich choreographic heritage and a creative contemporary language.

Araolaza explains how dances using swords, sticks, small shields and ropes became the most widespread forms of dance in the Basque Country starting in the sixteenth century. He then examines the evolution and transformation over the past five centuries, as well as the renaissance of Basque culture in the twentieth century.

Dance is present in winter festivals beginning on All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day and lasting until Ash Wednesday. Groups of young people go from farm to farm or house to house, stopping in front of every door to dance and sing for a bite to eat or a bit of money. These circuits or collection rounds are an important part of any respectable winter festival: oilasko-biltze (chicken collection) on St Martin’s Day, gifts on St Nicholas Day, the day of Olentzero (a sort of Basque Father Christmas), collection of alms on St. Agatha´s Day, the gathering of bits and bobs for Carnival… The author dedicates particular attention to the maskarada, or masquerade rituals, in Zuberoa, where the young people of a village put together the masquerades and take them from village to village. In recent years, the masquerades have lasted from the second or third weekend of January to Easter Sunday.

The first carnival celebrations of the year are in late January in Lapurdi, where the kaskarots (akin to gypsies) are the main characters. Their hats adorned with flowers and their outfits with colourful ribbons and decorations, groups of eight kaskarots perform a variety of dances including sagar-dantzas (apple dances) and makila-dantzas (stick dances).

Every season

May marks the beginning of the village festivals and the festival calendar continues until October. It´s time for the sword, stick and rope dances.

May 3rd in the town of Legazpi, Gipuzkoa, is Santikutz (day of the cross), kicking off the sword dance season. Over the following weeks, these dances are performed in several towns, including Donostia-San Sebastián, Zumarraga, Tolosa, Markina-Xemein, Deba, Lesaka and Bera.

In the area around Durango, the dantzari-dantza is one of the most popular of the trokeo type dances. In the Rioja region of Araba, the trokeo-dantzas are performed in Elciego and Laguardia, and until the twentieth century in Villabuena and Oion as well.

The tradition flourishes

The author goes on to explain how the dance group Argia revolutionised dance in the second half of the twentieth century. Under the leadership of Juan Antonio Urbeltz, Argia explored the roots of traditional dance, collected local folklore and revived traditional dance choreographies. The musical direction and costume design of Marian Arregi imbued the group with authenticity.

Through monographic shows focusing on specific regions and subjects, Argia performed and encouraged dances that had been left by the wayside, on the verge of disappearing or even lost altogether. Araolaza points out the particular importance of the dance programme monographs of Nafarroa (1970), Gipuzkoa (1972), Lapurdi (1974) and Zuberoa (1978).

However, Araolaza believes that it is the local groups that look after the dances from each village and keep them alive: the Oñatz group with the Corpus dantzak of Oñati, the Oinarin group with the trokeo-dantzas of Antzuola, and the Oinkari group with the carnival dances of Beskoitze.  He also points out that on other occasions it has been groups from larger towns and cities that have maintained other dance repertoires.

The number of groups that have created shows based on folk dance has increased in recent years. In the first half of the twentieth century the groups Saski Naski, Eresoinka and Elai-Alai paved the way for others to follow, among them Olaeta, Oldarra, Etorki and Schola Cantorum.

Today, Aukeran and Kukai are the two best-known dance companies whose shows combine traditional Basque dance with a modern flair. Araolaza also touches on the grop Haatik, directed by dancer Aiert Beobide; the Oinkari group from Villabona, which combines their own shows with collaborations with musical and theatre groups; and the creative Basque dances of the Bilaka collective in Lapurdi.

In his book, Araolaza also includes Basque dancers with careers in some of the world´s most prestigious ballet companies and opera houses, creating a map of the Basque dance diaspora.

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