Juan Antonio Urbeltz publishes
landmark book on Basque dance
by Lisa Corcostegui
Juan Antonio Urbeltz, Basque folklorist and
director of Argia Dantzari Taldea in Donostia has recently
published Danza Vasca : Aproximación a los símbolos in
Etor-Ostoa's Euskal Herria Emblemática series.
This latest volume further elaborates his
innovative theory of Basque folklore introduced in his book Los
bailes de espadas y sus símbolos: Ciénagas, insectos y "moros"
Urbeltz's theory about the origin of many
Basque dances extends well beyond the Basque realm, however, and
calls into question the established paradigms of European
folklore. He asserts that the folk dances of many European
cultures share common elements that can be traced to the earliest
farming peoples during the Neolithic period.
Rejecting the notion of fertility, Urbeltz
contends that the main concern of these early farming societies
was protecting their crops from destruction by plagues of locusts,
grasshoppers, and other insects that inhabited and
reproduced in wet and marshy areas on the peripheries of these
settlements. Therefore, early farming societies conjured
symbolic manifestations of insects in order to avoid real
destruction later. They did this through dance and
processions in which disguised participants represented the
dreaded pests and made their way around the peripheries of
villages and were offered food to pacify them and deter the real
menaces from returning and eating their way through the
crops. Another function of these groups of dancers was to
disturb the breeding habitat and destroy the larvae so as to
control the pest population.
The book also addresses the role of dance in
Basque society through an examination of several genres.
There is a chapter dedicated to musical instruments and another
detailing the history of Argia. The work is beautifully
illustrated with six hundred photographs and images.
Urbeltz was the author of the first
comprehensive work on Basque dance entitled Dantzak
in 1978. He has extensively studied Basque folklore for many
decades and has conducted fieldwork all over the Basque Country
collecting dances, melodies, lyrics, costumes, and techniques,
many of which were on the brink of extinction. With his
group Argia, he has taken many of these nearly forgotten expressions
of Basque folklore to the stage to share with the public and in
doing so has brought about a revival of many dances.
To read a review of Urbeltz's Danza
Vasca : Aproximación a los símbolos from Gara (in
To read about Danza
Vasca : Aproximación a los símbolos on Dantzan.com (in
Basque and Spanish) click