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.