Competitions and championships
The most entertaining aspect of improvisation is the duel between
improvisers and the championships where presence of mind, relaxation, memory
and a sense of poetry play a dominating role.
Bertsularis during the final of the
general competition 2001 (photo: XDZ)
Competitions and championships take place without any scenery, on an
extremely simple stage: just a few chairs in a line with men and women who
get up to sing!
Bertsularis wear no make-up and perform in everyday clothes (no special
costume or particular style of clothing) generally with no effects at all:
with their hands behind their back or in their pockets, verse is rarely
accompanied by gestures. All of these features will surprise non
Anoeta velodrome (Donostia-San
Sebastián) packed on the day of the final of the general competition in
December 1997 (photo XDZ)
Today, this art of performing which bertsularis represent almost despite
themselves, is extraordinarily successful: almost ten thousand spectators
attended the Anoeta velodrome in Donostia-San Sebastián for the 2001
‘‘Txapelketa’’ (championship) broadcast live by Euskal Telebista, Basque
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You will be accompanied throughout this site by improvisers. During your
visit: click on their photos to discover what they have to say.
"Although I improvised my first verse outside the inn through the window,
I began to earn my place inside, and also to improvise more.
I can’t say since when, but at the time in bars in Urepel it was common
for certain men, after drinking a few glasses, to enthusiastically start
improvising. I watched them doing this, and I did the same thing, with four
or five friends around a table with a glass of wine and … whoever didn’t
manage to finish his verse had to pay the next round of drinks.
I never had to pay, I always managed to finish my improvisation".
"In our case, we had began to perform in public before we even knew what
stage fright was.
I think that’s why we were never really intimidated in front of an
audience. We undoubtedly asked ourselves, at one time or another, what we
were doing there, but when it happened, the fact that we’d been doing it
since childhood certainly helped us.
For others, performing in front of a audience is a traumatic experience,
they get really stressed. That was never my case"
"I began to improvise at the age of 8, and when I was 12 I gave it up
before taking it up again when I was 15 in Hendaye. A new group had been
formed, with a new teacher, and we also started going to Oiartzun.
Now that’s where we have our group and we go there regularly. We’ve
always had a really good group and that’s the only way to develop an
improvisation school. Improvisation is a pretext.
It’s not an essential part of life, so if you haven’t got a group which
motivates you, it’s easy to give up. I can’t remember our first public
performance, but I don’t have a bad memory of it, it didn’t traumatise me
and that’s very important. When you’ve suffered doing something, you don’t
want to continue. Nowadays, more than fright, I feel the adrenalin. And
adrenalin is necessary. Too much relaxation isn’t good for improvisation.
Your reflexes let you down and, just like being over nervous is bad, if
you’re too relaxed you just freeze up.
So nerves are a good thing before starting until you face the audience. I
like that that vertigo. It’s an intense moment"
"I remember the first time I performed in front of an audience. I was
eleven years old, it was in Arrasate, in the final of the Basque Country
I went up on to the stage wearing shorts … I was nervous, but, I didn’t
feel any pressure at all. For me, improvisation has always been a game and
I’ve never really apprehended it. I was more ashamed afterwards when the
verses I’d improvised were read out!
It was a wonderful experience which could actually have been quite
traumatising: at the age of eleven to suddenly find yourself in front of an
audience, having to improvise verses, when that’s something you’ve never
done before, in a championship, and being judged, also knowing that it’s all
going to be published in the press … But in the end, the audience was very
generous. Perhaps too generous. Until that time they’d always seen me as a
girl, and a little girl at that, and that was enough for them. I must admit
that, on the one hand, it suits me for them not to be too critical, but on
the other hand, it’d be better if everyone was judged in the same way.
I won several prizes: in the inter-school championships, in the Northern
Basque Country the Xenpelar prize and in September 2004 the Lizardi prize.
The only one I’m really proud of is the last one. When I won it I said to
myself: you really deserve this one!. It’s the first time I’ve ever
really accepted winning an award"
"I remember the first time I improvised. I don’t know when it was, but I
had to greet Sustrai Colina.
We were very young and they had an improvisation session. Although we had
prepared beforehand, I was really frightened.
There were three friends with me, and they also had to do the same thing
with the other improvisers present, and that was very difficult. Luckily you
get used to it and eventually you take great pleasure in it.
Every year we take part in the inter-school championship reserved for the
under 18’s. An eliminatory round was held in the Northern Basque Country and
two or three of us made it into the final.
I have taken part regularly and it’s never easy"