Arts & Culture

‘Greatest Basque spectacle’ wowed thousands in 1949. Now, Boise show honors its past

It’s Monday night and the Basque Center is crammed with nearly 175 dancers, musicians, actors and stage crew. It’s organized chaos, for they’ve been rehearsing — every Monday night — since January. There was no shortage of volunteers, either, for this is a historic event.

Seventy years ago, the Basque community was asked to put on a show for the 30th Boise Music Week festival. These days, that wouldn’t be an unusual request.

But back then, land for the Basque Center had not yet been purchased. The Oinkari Dancers wouldn’t be formed for 11 more years. There was no museum and no Basque studies program. The biggest Basque dances and gatherings were at boarding houses.

The first show was a big deal to produce — and its success resonates in the second show. “Thousands throng to ‘greatest Basque spectacle ever seen in U.S.,’” said the May 10, 1949, Idaho Statesman headline, with a side story saying there were “3,000 turned away” who could not fit in the Boise High School auditorium, the premier venue then. By popular demand, a repeat performance was held May 20.

That Music Week invitation — and the community’s overwhelming support — laid the foundation for the thriving Basque community of today, including those Monday night volunteers at the Basque Center.

The original show was called “Song of the Basque,” and this week’s show will follow in its footsteps as “Song of the Basque 2.” It is part of the 101st annual Boise Music Week and will have one show at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at the Morrison Center for Performing Arts. Tickets are free but must be reserved.

The original performance was a variety show, featuring performers from around the Treasure Valley. The 2019 show, however, is less variety and more of a story of the Basque migration, “the likes of which the world had ever seen,” says Aitor Amuchastegui as the storyteller and narrator through the play.

From the Idaho Statesman, May 10, 1949: ”With flying feet, these Basques dance la jota and parrasokla at the third Music Week performance, “Song of the Basque,” Monday evening. Ramon Ysursa and his sister, Ruby, did this exhibition number, with guitar accompaniement by their father, Benito. Assisting were his grandchildren, Bernard and Pilar Ysursa.” The children of Ramon and Ruby are performing the jota in the 2019 “Song of the Basque 2” show for Boise Music Week. Katherine Jones

The play, in fact, parallels his own family’s story.

“We came here, we didn’t know how to speak English, we knew very few people here,” he said in an interview. But he also remembers forming bonds with other Basques. “Those people became our family, our extended family,” central to the strength of the Basque community today.

“We’re trying to capture and make people aware of what’s happened since 1949,” says Juliana Jausoro Aldape, who, at 2 years old, was the youngest performer then. Her granddaughter will play Aldape’s part in the contemporary show. Aldape, who is on the organizing committee, laughs and predicts her granddaughter will also take her role on the same committee in the next 70 years.

That’s just another part of the show’s family connection. Among the many photos in the 1949 Idaho Statesman article is one showing Ramon Ysursa and his sister, Ruby Ysursa, dancing the traditional jota to music by their father, Benito Ysursa. In the 2019 version, the siblings’ children, John Ysursa and his cousin, Marie Basabe Alder, will dance.

It’s a special jota, for their grandfather played it on a guitar; traditionally it’s on an accordion.

“It’s a very gypsy-flavored jota,” Alder says. To make it extra-special, the Basque boarding house scene will include a recording that Benito Ysursa made after the 1949 show.

“We’re going to pretend that our grandfather is playing through the radio of our boarding house 70 years ago,” Ysursa says. “It’s just a special opportunity to relive those memories.”

The second show is written and directed by Doug Copsey, who grew up in a Basque neighborhood, Aldape Heights, in Boise’s East End. The play includes photos from the original play, interspersed with interviews of the original 1949 cast members who are still living.

“They’re so dedicated. They so want to make this a good show like the 1949 show was,” Copsey says. “And everybody wants to be a part of it.

“It’s neat to see the memories they’re honoring from the ’49 show and yet taking it another step forward. That’s the third act: The four generations, leading into the fifth. The purpose of the third act is to highlight those generations and how they’ve evolved here in Boise and in Idaho.”

Ysursa reflects on the passing of those generations and the honor it is to dance the jota. Both his grandfather and his father and aunt, who danced in the 1949 play, have died.

“This is a very special way to really remember (them) and pay tribute to our family,” he says. “… As the subtitle of the show says: The legacy continues. So we’re a part of that ongoing story.”

2019 Boise Music Week Events

Tickets are not required at any Boise Music Week event; however, ticketed patrons are seated first. Unclaimed seating 15 minutes prior to showtime will be available to unticketed patrons. Tickets are encouraged for any event that offers them.

5-9 p.m. Thursday, May 2: Music Week Gala at JUMP. Ticketed event. Free-flowing venues within: music, dance, drama for adults and children.

7 p.m. Friday, May 3: International Dance Night at Borah High School, 6001 W. Cassia St. We Are the World! Music, dance and world culture, featuring America Taps, Ballet Folklorico Mexico Lindo Idaho, Boise Highlanders Dancers, Flamenco Idaho, Global Lounge, Indian Creek Western Swing, Julie Stevens Tappers, Killarney Irish Dance, and Traditional Chinese Dance.

11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, May 4: Music In the Park at Julia Davis Park, between the bandshell and Boise Art Museum. 12:30 p.m. Musical Petting Zoo. 1:15 p.m. ‘Music In The Park 101st Year Anniversary Concert’ including songs from “Thoroughly Modern Millie” cast; barbershop quartet; Elias Pierson; Borah High School’s Acapella Octet’ Dream Weaver Productions. With food trucks from Scotty’s Hot Dogs and Ramen Sho. Bring a blanket or lawn chair.

7 p.m. Saturday, May 4: All That’s Jazz at Borah High School Auditorium, 6001 W. Cassia St. Featuring the Van Paepeghem Quintet; the DC3; and the Emily Braden Quartet.

3 p.m. Sunday, May 5: Song of the Basque II – The Legacy Continues at Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, 2201 W. Cesar Chavez Lane. Ticketed event.

7 p.m. Sunday, May 5: Church Night at Cathedral of the Rockies, 717 N. 11th St. Organ Prelude by Mark Hansen; Opera Children’s Chorus; homily by Rabbi Daniel Fink of Ahavath Beth Israel; Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale; Sacred Music, A Jazz Prayer by Kevin Kirk.

12:15-1 p.m. Monday through Thursday: Noon organ recitals at St. Michael’s Cathedral, 518 N. 8th St. Monday, Douglas Keilitz; Tuesday, Ryan Dye; Wednesday, Laura Toland; Thursday, Mark Hansen.

10:30-11:15 a.m. Monday: Music Adventures at Boise Public Library Downtown branch, 715 S. Capitol Blvd. Participants become part of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet of the classic Russian fairy tale “The Firebird.”

7 p.m. Monday, May 6: Showcase Concert at Borah High School Auditorium, 6001 W. Cassia St. First half features piano duets by Jeffrey Shumway and Del Parkinson. Second half at 8 p.m. features Treasure Valley Concert Band directed by Marcellus Brown.

10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Tuesday, May 7: Music Carnival at Boise Public Library Downtown branch, 715 S. Capitol Blvd. An open-house style event with eight booths sponsored by the Boise Public Library children’s librarians.

7 p.m. Tuesday, May 7: School Night at Taco Bell Arena. Performances by ensembles from the Boise School District, including Kiwanis Boys Choir, Elementary Honor Choir, Intermediate Honor Band and Intermediate Honor Orchestra; United Junior High Choir, Junior High Honor Orchestra, United High School Choir, United High School Orchestra, United High School Jazz Band, High School Jazz Choir and High School Orchestra. The concert will include over 2,000 student vocalists and instrumentalists.

7 p.m. Wednesday, May 8: A capella Night at Borah High School Auditorium, 6001 W. Cassia St. Featuring Essential Jazz, Cantus’s VoiceOver, Critical Mass, the Boise Men’s Chorus, and more.

10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Thursday, May 9: Let’s Play Music at Boise Public Library Downtown branch, 715 S. Capitol Blvd. Stations sponsored by the Treasure Valley Let’s Play Music teachers.

7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 9: “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, 2201 W. Cesar Chavez Lane. Ticketed event. A zany romantic spoof of the Roaring Twenties. Millie is an innocent country girl who comes to the big city in search of a husband. The all local cast is under the directorship of Jonathon Perry.

12:15-1 p.m. Friday, May 10: Organ and Silent Movie Concert at the Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St. Sean Rogers will be playing the Robert Morton Theatre Organ to a movie from his selection of Laurel and Hardy movies.

2 p.m. Saturday, May 11: “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (see Thursday). Ticketed event.

2 p.m. Sunday, May 12: “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (see Thursday). Ticketed event.

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