Ucelay painted Danzas Suletinas in 1955 - 56, in other words five years after the opening of the Academy and also six after his return from exile in England while he illustrated the Baroja Basque Country Guide, when he realised the possibilities of a group of dantzaris (dancers) from Zuberoa. In Ucelay’s representation the mascarada suletina (Carnival party) is restricted to the five most important and lavish characters. In the foreground one of the dance group appears resting with a whole series of objects, a basket, bread, albota, Basque psalter, the glass of wine of the godalet-dantza, in the presence of a woman and a dog who look after them. Behind them, the other group dances while various characters look on. 


With the representation of the scene, Urcelay has set this dance in history. The following characters appear from left to right:

--The drapeau, individual who carries the flag and makes it flutter during the dance and introduces the group.

-- The gathusain, with an instrument like a wooden scissor or pantograph.

-- the txerrero, who carries a stick with a horse’s tail.

-- the barmaid, a man dressed as a woman, with a 19th century French buhaumesa.

-- the zamalzain, the dance’s most spectacular character, who has a type of horse at the waist.

In the foreground, the musical instruments: the accordion, the alboka, the txun-txun and the txirula, these last two typical of this dance and, in general, of the French Basque area. Also a glass of wine for the godaletdantza or dance of the glass.

The painting is closed with a scene of domed mountains with which the clouds play rhythmically, like closing the representation in curve, against the straight and parallel lines of the scene’s foreground, like for example the bench where the characters sit. In the background, the Gotein church, with a Calvary-type bell tower.


This oil painting of very high pictorial quality has a perfect tonal relationship on the chromatic level, the arabesque rhythm of the line, and shows Ucelay’s constant preoccupation for the light, as well as a living example of the slow and careful finish of his paintings. Ucelay has always passed through an uncommon pictorial experience (chromatic and narrative): the endless portrait of this group which is lost in the distance and the metaphysics of the objects and the air.


Ucelay’s painting, like the Olaeta ballets, avoid however the folkloric expression of Basque painting. Flores Kaperotxipi is perhaps the best exponent of that criticism made of Ucelay of not being a Basque painter because he did not paint calendar villagers or vulgar types: “his Basques resemble English aristocrats dressed like Basque villagers; he portraits them like duchesses of Alba”. Who did correctly interpret Ucelay’s “Basquism”, the representation of the world surrounding the painter, was the poet and diplomat Ramon de Basterra, who indicated that Ucelay was the “liberation from the ethnography”. In the same way, Victor Olaeta also represented the liberation from the ethnography with his original choreographies.


From their beginning, the Olaetas lived immersed in the artistic world. The correspondence with musicians as important as Guridi, Padre Donosti, Arambarri and Solozabal; direct contact with painters like José María Ucelay or Antonio de Guezala; the librettos of Manuel de la Sota; the scenography of their nephew Eduardo de la Sota; the designs of Uranga and Esquibel; the photographs of Maura y Lara...

Curiosities like the presentation of the Olaeta Ballets by Humprey Bogart and Lauren Bacall on a cruise during one of their trips to America or their relationship with the actors of West Side Story on their third North American tour consolidated their solid relations with the world of dance, as did their relationship with the choreographer Roland Petit or with Igor Moseiev who was inspired by Basque dance steps for the Russian Ballets after seeing a private performance of the Olaeta Ballets. Nureyev and Margot Fontaine practiced daily in the Academia during their 1968 tour.



This spirit continues today and in the diffusion of the legacy of the Olaeta Ballets we are honoured to be assisted by artists and intellectuals of the standing of Néstor Basterretxea, Pedro Olea, José Ibarrola, Kosme de Barañano or José Antonio Arana Martija, amongst others.


The audio-visual content of the Olaeta Ballets is made up a diverse group of films in Super 8, 8 mm, Video 8, VHS, Betamax and Betacam. Its origin is in the collection that the Olaeta brothers made of their trips and performances, as well as recordings of classic ballets which they use amongst other things as inspiration for the preparation of new choreographs. The content has been enriched by the selfless donations of films by ex-students of the academy and TV producers. The content has been digitalised by the Filmoteca Vasca (Basque Film Library), which will keep the originals, from which we have selected 130 DVDs which are currently being catalogued. Four short films have been prepared from this documentary content which can be seen in the exhibition’s audio-visual room and the Olaeta documentary is currently being filmed called “Olaeta: una vida en danza” (Olaeta: a life of dance), directed by Pedro Olea and produced by IDEM Producción Audiovisual.dantzaris

The document content contains posters, smaller printed items and programmes, photo library, press cuttings and periodical library, choreography documentation and originals, and costume designs. The photograph collection has 2,000 black and white, and colour, prints, and well as glass negatives which, in different formats, show the evolution of the ballets from the 1940s to present.

The press archive and the periodical library has a thousand cuttings from Spanish, French and American periodical publications (Euzko Deya, La Gaceta del Norte, Hierro, Correo Español, La Croix, La Dépéche, Sud-Ouest, L´Aube, Euzkadi, etc.) between 1938 and 2000, with reviews, interviews, advertising and programs.

The document archive includes documentation from between 1926 and 2006, with about a thousand units. It contains, on the one hand, documentation relating to the financial and business activity of the Olaeta Ballets, and, on the other hand, an interesting section of correspondencekept by the members of the family with different figures from their period’s cultural scene (Guridi, Padre Donosti, Ucelay, Severo Altube, la Sociedad Coral de Bilbao/Bilbao Choral Society, the President of the Diputación Foral de Bizkaia/Provincial Council of Bizkaia, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, etc.). Of particular interest are the original librettos and scripts, and the choreographies and notes on dance steps. We could also mention the short Basque Dance Dictionary prepared by Lide de Olaeta, which translates into Basque/Euskera the Classic Ballet steps, thereby providing some innovation.

Finally, all of the documentation relating to the tours of the USA and Canada, their planning, hand programmes and correspondence.

The costumes or wardrobe content contains 700 costumes made between 1920 and 2005 in Paris and Bilbao. There are dresses of incalculable value, both in historic terms and due to their fabrics (silks, velvets, organzas, wools, skins, …), and their tailoring.

This curious ensemble of costumes consists of both tutus and stylised folkloric costumes or modern versions of medieval, renaissance and nineteenth century traditions. The content is completed with tailored shows made in Paris and ballet shoes.


Finally, we highlight the attrezzo or props, with beautiful parasols, headdresses, baskets, hoops, swords, a caixa, cestas puntas (pelota baskets) and suletino accessories.

Although they should really belong to the document section, here we include the most artistic part of this content, whose historical and ethnographic value has still to be researched. These are the artistic originals of choreographs and costumes. This section covers about 80 beautiful artistic originals in gouache, tempera, watercolour and ink, mainly by Manuel Esquibel, Eduardo de la Sota and Dorita Roda. The creativity and innovation surrounding various generations of ballerinas deserve separate acclaim. 

All of the documents from the Music Section of Olaeta Ballet’s heritage are closely related to its performances. The organisation and safekeeping of the archive corresponds directly to the business part of the Olaeta Ballets. Víctor Olaeta carefully kept this archive using great criteria thanks to his double professional training as a dancer and as a musician.


This Section’s content allows us to know in great detail the activities of Segundo Olaeta and his group Elai-Alai, from which we could highlight the high proportion of choral music.

A significant part of the content consists in band music, relating to the activities of both the father and the son and of conductors of this type of instrumental ensembles. The two types of documents in this Section, scores and recordings, set the performances of the Olaeta Ballets, albeit in a different way: The scores on the one hand define the musical and choreographic form prior to the performances; the recordings on the other hand fix the sonorous aspects for their subsequent conservation and assessment.

This content bears witness to the intense collaboration with the best composers from the Basque Country like Guridi, Franco, Escudero, Arámbarri, Padre Donostia, Olaizola or  Zubizarreta. 

The recordings made during the tours in the United States of America leave a record of the work of the Olaeta Ballets and the musicians who accompanied them (the txistulari Boni, the trikitilari Julio Fernández and the albokari Txilinbrin) as cultural ambassadors of the Basque Country.

The content also documents the introduction of classical dance into the Basque Country, not only the best-known repertoire from the 19th and 20th centuries, with composers like Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Delibes, Strauss, and others, but also from their avatars since the 17th century, like works from Lully and Rameau, for example, and with the minuets from the 18th century.


The opera scores bear witness to the Olaeta Ballets’ collaborations in various large lyrical theatre productions by both Basque composers like Guridi, with his Amaya, or Escudero, with his Zigor, and foreign composers: Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi, Gounod or Bizet. 


In March 2008 the Olaeta family decided to donate this cultural legacy to the Diputación Foral de Bizkaia/Provincial Council of Bizkaia, in order to conserve and disseminate its enormous cultural wealth, accumulated during 80 years’ activity. The legacy was accepted by the Diputación/Provincial Council at a symbolic, formal and emotional ceremony held at the Foral (Provincial) Palace on 11th December of that same year, during which the director of the Filmoteca Vasca/Basque Film Library surprised everyone with a 1937 silent film which showed the Olaetas dancing as children in France. These children, now elderly, improvised music for the dances and sang out loud while they watched the old images for the first time. 

The academy of the Olaeta Ballets opened its doors in 1948 in calle Santamaría and two years later, in 1950, moved to its definitive location in calle Ercilla number 11,

where it remained active until 2007, the year Victor Olaeta passed away.

His piano accompanied the classes, and his education based on respect and love of Basque cultural, music and dance, and the famous “Olaeta smile” (always smiling surrounded by effort) attracted over decades more than 10,000 students. Three generations of children, adolescents and adults have enjoyed in the heart of Bilbao this homemade recipe of succulent culture.


Lourdes, Lide and Miren Tere Olaeta accompanied Víctor as teachers at the Academy, together with outstanding students like

Begoña Aldámiz-Echevarría, who remains in our thoughts. The third generation would have Lide Maguregi Olaeta as their teacher during the last years.

A platform and meeting point for artists and enthusiasts, the Academy was also the publishing headquarters in 1958 and 1959 of the Oinka magazine. 


The origin of the Ballets dates back to 1927 when Segundo Olaeta created the Elai-Alai in Gernika. The “happy swallows” would be the first Basque dance group. From Gernika they went to France where they set up the group Oldarra and their performances started to become more professional until in 1949 the “Olaeta Ballets” group was created and would act for the first time at the Liceo Guerniqués, then at Madrid’s Lope de Vega Theatre and afterwards …. another 60 years of performances throughout the world.

We could look at the story lines and the music of the great ballets, like the canon of George Balanchine: Coppelia; Swan Lake; The Sylphs … regular collaborator of the ABAO (Bilbao Friends of the Opera Association), his ballets participate in great operas like The Pearl Fishers, Lucrezia Borgia and the Mona Lisa, amongst others.

The Olaeta Ballets innovate by intertwining and enriching Basque folklore and classical ballet. And this was how Basque Ballet was created.

Segundo Olaeta recovered the aurresku de anteiglesia and the “ereglak” and creates the zortziko de San Miguel de Arretxinaga, its music and its choreography. His natural successor, Víctor Olaeta, who had been steeped in folklore since his childhood, incorporated his knowledge from the Academic School of Paris, London and New York, and a solid musical training, was prepared to launch the creation of the Basque Ballet. Amongst Víctor Olaeta’s choreographic creations, we could highlight “Oinkarin,” with music by Guridi; “Las Cuatro Estaciones” (The Four Seasons) based on a score by José Franco, and “Urbeltzeko Laminak,” by Padre Donosti. 

In 1661 Luis XIV of France, the Sun king, created the L’Académie Royale de Danse. This first academic Ballet training in the history of Europe included, amongst others, 16 Basque dantzaris (dancers) which the king had seen perform at his wedding the previous year at Saint Jean de Luz. Classical Ballet was born with five positions from Beauchamps and the stylised and refined music of Lully in the French court, inspired by the fashions and manners of the Italy of the Medici. This was the first time that the characters from Basque dance made their contribution to international ballet. This led to the following appearing amongst the steps of Classical Ballet: Pas de Basque: step where first of all a round rond de jambe is performed followed by a jump. Saut Basque: a jump where the ballerina spins in the air while holding a foot on the other knee. Many years later, in the 20th century, Segundo Olaeta closes this circle: after training his own children in classical ballet in Paris, he opened the first Basque Ballet and Classical Dances academy in 1950, bringing together Basque folklore, stylising and harmonising it with Classical Ballet. The tours around the world (France, Canada and USA) in the 1950s and 60s and his many performances in the best theatres and on television witnessed his great contribution.