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To the Festival

An evening of Basque culture at Festara


If you went to see Festara, the Basque dance and music performance during Jaialdi, you probably left the Morrison Center jumping and shuffling your feet like the dancers who had just left the stage. It was festive and catchy, and I practiced my loose-knee kick and double-jointed ankle moves all the way to the car-though it's doubtless the jittery fits that I performed were shorter on, oh say, skill and precision, than those of Idaho's Oinkari dancers or the Basque country's Andra Mari dancers.

The Andra Mari group began in Galdakao in 1955 and has traveled the world to perform the traditional Basque dance and music. The men and women of the group research, recover and hone the styles and technical details of dances with name like Luzaideko Jauziak and Bizkaiko Dantzari Taldea. If your tongue has no problem with that, you may be familiar with the other performing dance troupe, the Basque American Oinkari Dancers, which combines the Euskera words for "one who does with his feet" and "light."

Never saw a Basque dancer? With fleet-feet dancing in circles often with partners, the routines are more square dance than belly dance and perhaps more Riverdance than breakdance, though it mostly reminds me of the May Day celebrations from primary school with ribbons, sticks, bells and flat shoes. There's one dance like the May Pole and another in which couples travel under the raised arms of their friends. The highlight dance involved the men jumping around and slapping sticks for a fast beat. The costumes, however, are not May Day-ish-women don prudent long skirts and restrain their hair while the men look like jesters and Venetian gondoliers with red and white vests, rainbowed ribbons, scarves and traditional hats.

Dancers jiggied to what sounded at first like a revolutionary drum and fife-until joined by other traditional Basque instruments like the alboka and txirula and the accordion, violin, bagpipes, guitar and a host of musical sounds that really got the guy in front of me bobbing. (As it happens, that guy was Boise Mayor Dave Bieter!) I, too, couldn't help but tap my feet as the beating music matched the rhythmic dancing.

There were also some skillful musical interludes, but minus the dancers, it made the musicians glued to one side of the stage look unusually shy for performers.

Also entertaining was the local Biotzetik Basque Choir. The name means "from the heart," which is appropriate as it represents the groups' dedication to mastering the folk, choral and religious songs.

Festara was obviously celebratory and as it goes with all celebrations, I'd rather be dancing along than watching. Since Jaialdi comes every five years, I have a while to work on my moves.