Tag: basque dance (page 1 of 2)

Txakoli & Music: CBS friend offers innovative masterclass in Basque cultural symbols

This past Saturday, April 15, as part of the 2017 Basque Fest celebrations held to introduce Basque culture to Easter vacation visitors to Bilbao, CBS friend Sabin Bikandi of the Aiko group, together with Alvaro García and Amaiur Cajaraville, offered up a lively, informal, and instructive talk and performance at the Basque Museum in Bilbao around the theme of txistu (flute) music and txakolina, the emblematic Basque wine, sponsored by the Bizkaiko Txakolina designation of origin.

Ever the consummate showman, Sabin explained several features of Basque culture with his usual good humor and panache, from the txistu itself–the Basque three-holed pipe or flute–to txakolina of course, a generous glass of which was served to audience members, but also how to wear a txapela or Basque beret, and what music means to him; in short, that music and dance are one and the same organic whole, and that music, dance, and txakolina were all important elements of the erromeriak or public outdoor dances that were traditionally held in the Basque Country.

Check out Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Dance Music in the Basque Country, Sabin’s wonderfully evocative portrait of a master txistularia or txistu player, Alejandro Aldekoa; a work that also addresses broader issues of Basque music and dance.

And if you do like Basque music and dance be sure to check out the book/CD/DVD Urraska: A New Interpretation of the Basque Jauziak Dances as Interpreted by Sagasta, an all encompassing exploration of these representative Basque dances.

 

 

Easter vacation festivities come to the Basque Country

The Baiona Ham Festival

The Easter vacation is becoming an increasingly important time for the growing leisure sector in the Basque Country. This week, traditional religious celebrations coinciding with Easter itself will be held,  in which towns like Durango (with its famous pasinue) and Balmaseda in Bizkaia as well as others all over the Basque Country take center stage.  But there are also a number of other activities taking place to cater for the increasing number of tourists who visit at this time of year. One of the biggest events takes place in Bilbao. The Basque Fest is a specially designed festival combining Basque traditions and gastronomy that seeks to introduce visitors to the wonderful world of Basque culture in all its facets, from traditional Basque sports to music and dance as well as, of course, food and drink. Staying on a similar theme, Baiona also hosts a wonderful festival of its own this week: the Baiona Ham Festival, a must see event for all aficionados of this famous Basque delicacy. Such festivities are, though, just the tip of the iceberg. Towns and cities all over the Basque Country will be celebrating this important holiday season in many and varied ways.

The Maskarada: A Unique Basque Cultural Event

Zamalzain, the hobbyhorse/centaur, one of the striking characters in the masakarada performance. Photo by Oier Araolaza, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday, January 22, the annual maskarada begin its annual odyssey. Part drama, part dance, part poetic performance (both memorized and improvised),  and with more than a coincidental resemblance to the forthcoming carnival antics across the Basque Country, this is a cultural form unique to Xiberoa (or Zuberoa) in the far northeast of the Basque Country, in which a group of amateurs from the same area traditionally perform a form of transgressive, subversive, and parodic open-air popular theater with the declared aim of poking fun at those in authority. The traveling troupe always includes the same characters, a set group made up of ostensibly “good” and “bad” figures, although the lines do get blurred. At root, this is a tradition designed to cement community ties and one that celebrates both the Basque language and traditional music and dance. It has been practiced since at least the sixteenth century.

This year’s event is being performed by  a group of young people aged 15 to 24 from the villages of Ezpeize-Ündüreine, Ürrüstoi-Larrabile, Ainharbe, Sarrikotapea, Onizepea, and Mitikile in the Pettarra region of northern Xiberoa, and kicked off in Ezpeize itself. The maskarada is returning to this region 100 years after it was last performed here. In the video above you can see the introductory dance following the so-called fall of the first barricade.

One of the most spectacular moments in the maskarada is the godaleta(a) dantza (dance of the glass of wine), in which dancers attempt to momentarily hop on and off a glass of wine. Check out this video of dancers attempting the feat at a separate event in Donibane Lohizune, Lapurdi:

Check out, too, “The Folk Arts of the Maskarada Performance” by Kepa Fernández de Larrinoa in Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. In his article, Fernández de Larrinoa explains who the characters are in this performance as well as the set pattern of scenes they perform, and what all of this means within the wider context of the culture of Xiberoa.

This book is available free to download here.

 

The Ariñak Project: Learning about the many sides of Basque culture through music and dance

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The Ariñak Project, co-founded by Mercedes Mendive and Janet Iribarne in Elko, Nevada, is an ambitious attempt to learn about the multiple dimensions of Basque culture, centered on music and dance but also encompassing, for example, the Basque language and traditional Basque sports. According to Mercedes:

This endeavor was developed to teach important elements of music, including pandero (tambourine), accordion, txistu, alboka, txalaparta, singing as well as introducing our kids/members to the Basque language and Basque sports. It’s our goal to incrementally start our participants on a cultural journey that will stay with them for a lifetime.

As part of the project camp days are held on which participants learn the fundamentals of both music and dance from experienced instructors. The ultimate goal is to extend this learning to a more comprehensive understanding of how the instruments, the music, and the dance all form part of a greater whole that is Basque culture in general. For example, the project seeks to teach people the meanings behind popular Basque songs and dances, how and why they may be important in Basque culture more generally.

Check out Mercedes Mendive’s webpage (with contact information) here.

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And Euskal Kultura report on the project here.

This ambitious project mirrors similar efforts in the Basque Country itself that seek to interpret Basque dance as part of a wider cultural framework: first and foremost, and perhaps most obviously, as a cultural form intimately connected to music. As he notes, while doing research for his marvelous book, Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Dance Music, Sabin Bikandi was himself an accomplished musician who (p.31),

suddenly realized that I had no idea of how to play for the dance, no idea of the repertoire, the repetitions, or the meaning of “following the dancers.” If I was going to write about Aldekoa, a pipe and tabor player and a dance master, I felt I had to learn the job, and the only way was to do just that—to learn to perform.

However (p.33),

the learning process was slow and complicated, and my knowledge is still a long way behind that of the great master, Aldekoa. However, the little that I learned helped me to reinterpret and understand the relationship between choreography and music, and in the end, how music and dance form a single entity. As I have observed, at present, dance and music are taught as separate subjects. Musicians do not learn anything but music, and dancers do basically the same as regards dance. Many dancers are not able to sing what they dance or the rhythm they mark while dancing. This has been a problem during my own learning process, for my musical-analytical approach found no response from the dance teachers. On the other hand, I found that many dancers are afraid of musicians’ knowledge about rhythm analysis and their knowledge of the science of music.

In short, as Bikandi observes in his work, stepping up to the next level, at least attempting to comprehend a true master like Aldekoa, required that kind of commitment to a greater understanding of how music and dance are one and the same thing, and how in this particular case, they are are also central to Basque cultural norms as a whole.

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Some Basque-American traditions during the Holiday Season

With the holiday season here, most of you out there will know that this is a time typically embraced by Basque-Americans to have a good old time, Basque-style, with plenty of eating, drinking, dancing, and general bonhomie. One only need check out Astero to get a flavor of all the events going on during the holiday season, but it’s worth recalling that all these Christmas parties, the lunches and dinners, as well as the New Year’s celebrations, are rooted in a long tradition stretching back many years. This custom–which in academic terms we could say was based on a drive to cement community and cultural ties, to keep those bonds strong, and maintain and pass on traditions, often in the face of adverse wider social conditions–has in recent years changed significantly, but I think it’s interesting to consider how and why these gatherings came about.

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For those that could, Christmas was one of the few opportunities for Basque-Americans to let their hair down a little. Picture from the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.

As Bill Douglass and Jon Bilbao point out in Amerikanuak (p. 386), such events were in former times typically less public than they are today. In their words, as regards the winter events (p. 388):

These Basque get-togethers all shared the characteristic of being closed ethnic affairs. With the exception of the Boise Sheepherders’ Ball, they were unheralded, inconspicuous events on the local social calendar. They were often held at some distance from the local population centers. None of this is surprising when we consider that the dates coincide with the periods of tension between the Basques and their neighbors … In such a climate, the Basques were not prone to display their ethnic identity publicly. If the Basque hotel and the private picnic or dance served as an ethnic refuge, where the immigrant could enjoy Basque cuisine, conversation, and company, he attempted in his dealings with the wider society to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

Even the origins of the famed Sheepherders’ Ball, perhaps the most famous of all Basque winter social events, recall an altercation between different Basque insurance groups in the late 1920s. As John and Mark Bieter note in An Enduring Legacy: The Story of Basques in Idaho (p. 100):

Both organizations scheduled Christmas dances for herders in town on the same night. The influential sheepman John Archabal mediated the controversy and convinced the two sides to organize one dance with a lamb auction for charity. Both parties agreed, and the annual Sheepherders’ Ball became a mainstay in Boise and, later, in other southern Idaho towns.

The Sheepherders’ Ball became known as an “apron and overalls” dance, because admission required sheepherder garb or traditional Basque costumes. Sometimes a stand was set up near the door, where any partygoers who arrived inappropriately dressed could buy jeans on the spot. Although it was reserved for Basques and their guests, the Sheepherders’ Ball attracted the attention of the general public. On December 19, 1936, the Boise Capitol News wrote: “Black-eyed sons and daughters of the Pyrenees danced their beloved ‘jota’ with snapping fingers and nimble feet Friday evening at the annual Sheepherders’ Ball held at Danceland, to the music of Benito Arrego’s accordion and pandareen.”

Nowadays, these holiday season get-togethers are more open affairs, with everyone welcome, as noted in our recent post on the Basque Ladies’ Lagunak Christmas Luncheon in Reno. But it’s good to see that this great tradition of holiday season lunches, dinners, and dances continues to bind the Basque-American community together.

Besides these events, there is also a tradition of Basque-American participation in Christmas parades, as Nancy Zubiri writes in her invaluable book, A Travel Guide to Basque America:

On Christmas Eve for several years local Basque Children traveled down the usually snow-lined main street of Gardnerville in  hay-wagons, displaying the Nativity scene, signing gabon kantak (Christmas carols) and playing instruments–an Old Country tradition. Their procession would end at the Overland, where they received gifts and [Elvira] Cenoz served them the traditional hot chocolate. But the custom ended when the number of children dwindled.

Nowadays, the Garnerville Basque Club, Mendiko Euskaldun Cluba, usually takes part in the town’s annual festive Parade of Lights.

Christmas was also an occasion for family gatherings of course, as the stories collected in Portraits of Basques in the New World, edited by Richard W. Etulain and Jeronima Echeverria, testify to. For example, Ysidra Juanita “Jay” Arriola Uberuaga Hormaechea, born in Boise in 1908, recalled the holiday season of her youth (pp. 194-95):

We never knew what Christmas was until I was grown up, went to work, and earned some money. I brought in a fresh Christmas tree to our home at 310 Grove, in Boise. It was the first tree that our family ever had. Christmas day for us people was shared big suppers, dancing, and enjoying ourselves, in that way … Maybe, a little package for the kids. That was it … That’s the way it was when I was a girl.

Similarly, and in the Old Country tradition, Marjorie Archabal remembered (p. 91) Christmas Eve meals at which some thirty people gathered, women on one side of the table, men on the other, with the Archabal family patriarch and matriarch at the head. These meals took days to prepare, with the menu consisting of tongue, tripe, and codfish, among many other dishes. Meanwhile, growing up in a Basque home in northeastern Montana in the 1940s and 1950s, Rene Tihista recalled a blend of Basque and American traditions, with turkey making appearance at the family table (p. 121):

When I was a kid all the holiday gatherings with my uncles and cousins were held at our place. Mom raised a huge turkey for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. Dad played the accordion and violin and sang Basque songs. Of course wine flowed freely during our get-togethers. I would sit on dad’s knee and sing “Uso Zuria,” a song he taught me about a white dove that travels to Spain. It was the only Basque song I knew, but it must have been a hit because the grown-ups made me sing it over and over.

And no doubt many of you out there, if you are part of a Basque-American family, will be enjoying similar kinds of celebrations this holiday season.

If you do have any stories you’d like to share with us about your own Basque-style holiday celebrations, we’d be pleased to hear from you!

 

 

 

Great new video to accompany this weekend’s Kilometroak fundraiser in Bergara

Every year, throughout the Basque Country, a special day is set aside to raise funds for a particular ikastola (a school in which instruction takes place predominantly in Basque) on which the main goal is to complete a walk (often sponsored) around a set circuit, with refreshment stands along the way and other associated activities, including concerts and the like, all in aid of raising money for Basque-language education: in Araba this is known as Araba Euskaraz (meaning “Araba in Basque”); in Bizkaia, Ibilialdia (the trek, hike, walk, etc.); in Iparralde, Herri Urats (“a people’s step”); in Nafarroa, Nafarroa Oinez (Nafarroa on foot); and in Gipuzkoa, Kilometroak (kilometers).

This year’s Kilometroak, which takes place on October 2, is being organized by the Aranzadi Ikastola in Bergara and its theme is demasa (tremendous, humongous), linked to the notion of aniztasuna (diversity). A great part of all these events in recent years has been the introduction of a specially composed song for the day with an accompanying video, and we’d like to share this year’s song with you. Enjoy!

 

A flamenco aurresku

Check out this great video of a highly innovative, flamenco-style interpretation of the traditional Basque aurresku dance.

This was originally the idea of saxophonist Josetxo Goia-Aribe, who was seeking to break down the conventional barriers of musical styles and interpretations. This is just one of five video dance performances, all interpreting the aurresku in different and challenging ways.

See more on how this came about through this article (in Spanish) at the website of the newspaper Noticias de Navarra.

Important classical music and dance festival begins tomorrow in Donostia

One of the major events on the calendar for classical music fans in the Basque Country is Hamabostaldia, an August festival made up of both music and dance performances that gets underway tomorrow, and runs through the end of the month.

Dating originally from 1939, the festival was reorganized in the late 1970s when the city council took control of the event. It subsequently got the backing of both the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa and the Basque government and is now the premier occasion of its kind in the Basque Country. Quoting the festival website:

Opera, ballet, the great symphonic orchestras, the small chamber groups, the romantic organ, the choral groups, contemporary composers, local promises, the great names of the international scene, the shows for children… all of them have a place in this Festival that beyond its main headquarters at the Kursaal Palace and the Victoria Eugenia Theatre resounds in many and singular spaces, not only in Donostia but also in Gipuzkoan territory.

Besides concerts and performances of many kinds, there are also spin-offs such as courses and musical summer camps, all designed to encourage and promote the enjoyment and appreciation of classical music in all its forms.

Among this year’s highlights (and check out the full program here) will be a performance of Wagner’s ballet Tristan and Isolda by the Grand Théâtre de Genève Ballet Company, as well as a rendition of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, with a cast including Christopher Maltman, Nicole Cabell, Irina Lungu, Daniel Giulianini, José Faldilha, Miren Urbieta-Vega, and Jose Manuel Díaz, music by the Basque National Orchestra conducted by Manuel Hernández Silva, and the accompaniment of the Easo Choir.

Finally, a spectacular finale to the event will witness the first ever joint performance of the Basque National Orchestra and the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, who will be joined by the Orfeón Donostiarra-Donostiako Orfeoia and the Orfeón Pamplonés-Iruñeko Orfeoia, to perform “Te Deum” by Hector Berlioz, “The Lord’s Prayer” by Francisco de Medina, and “Gernika” by Pablo Sorozabal.

Be sure to check out Karlos Sánchez Ekiza’s Basque Classical Music, a publication of the Etxepare Basque Institute free to download here.

Soka, Euskal Dantza: A New Basque Dance App

In conjunction with the traveling exhibition “Soka, euskal dantzaren uratsetan” (Soka, in the steps of a Basque dance), created by the Basque Cultural Institute, and using content from the Dantzan website, the Azkue Foundation recently presented a new app designed to encourage more interest in Basque dance.

 

You can download the Soka app free for both Android (from Google Play) and iOS (from the Apple Store). For more details on the app see the report by Euskal Kultura on the presentation here.

If you haven’t already done so, check out Sabin Bikandi’s Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Music in the Basque Country. Described by one reviewer as, “a tour de force that seems destined to become a—if not the—definitive work on the subject and is essential reading for anyone interested in three-hole pipe music, or Iberian folk music and dance at large,” this is a must-read for anyone interested in Basque music and dance.

Be sure to also check out Oier Araolaza’s Basque Dance, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.

Basque dancer joins English National Ballet company: Latest in long line of Basque ballet stars

We know how important dance is to Basques, so it’s interesting to hear that ballet dancer Aitor Arrieta, from Errenteria, Gipuzkoa, has joined the acclaimed English National Ballet company as a junior soloist from his previous position with the Compañía Nacional de Danza in Madrid. What makes Arrieta’s story all the more interesting is that he has a grounding in traditional Basque dance and later made the progression to more classical dance (see videos below).

Other Basques, of course, have also made their name on the international classical dance stage. Fermin Aldabaldetreku or “Pirmin Treku” (1930-2006) from Zarautz, Gipuzkoa, fled the Spanish Civil War as a child for England where he later danced with the Saddler’s Wells Ballet and the Royal Ballet between the late 1940s and early 1960s. At the same time, Gerardo Viana or “Vladimiro” (1925-2013), from Ortuella, Bizkaia, was evacuated to the Soviet Union, where he danced for the Tula Music and Theater company in the 1940s. And they were followed by the likes of (among many others) Xabier Urbeltz (Iruñea-Pamplona, 1942); Ion Beitia (Gueñes, 1947-2016), who danced for the Joffrey Ballet in New York and was nicknamed the “Basque Nijinsky”; Josu Mujika (Elgoibar, 1958); Ion Garnika (Lizarra-Estella, 1962); Jose Antonio Begiristain (Olaberria, 1963); José Anjel Pellejero or “Katxua”; Leire Ortueta (Leioa, 1971), who danced for the Royal Ballet in London in the 1990s; Monica Zamora (Ordizia, 1974); Igor Yebra (Bilbao, 1974); and Asier Uriagereka (Mungia, 1975). Arguably the two most prominent Basque classical dancers on the international stage today, however, are Lucia Lacarra and Itziar Mendizabal.

Probably the best known Basque ballet dancer at the moment, Lucia Lacarra, born in Zumaia, Gipuzkoa, in 1975, danced previously with the San Francisco Ballet (1997-2002) and has been a principal dancer with the Bayerisches Staatsballett (Bavarian State Opera Ballet) since 2002. A recipient of the esteemed Benois de la Danse Prize, she was named the Dancer of the Decade in 2011 at the World Ballet Stars Gala.

Itziar Mendizabal, born in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, in 1981, was principal dancer dancer at the Leipzig Ballet, which she joined in 2006, before going to London to join the Royal Ballet in 2010. She is now a first soloist with this renowned English company.

For those of you interested in all aspects of Basque dance, check out Oier Araolaza’s Basque Dance, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.

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