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Juan Antonio UrbeltzJuan 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"  (2000).  

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 Spanish), click here

To read about Danza Vasca : Aproximación a los símbolos on Dantzan.com (in Basque and Spanish) click here.

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copyright © L. Corcostegui 2001