Theses Doctoral

Staging Deviant Traditions: The Politics of Folklore under the Iberian Fascist Regimes

Ameixeiras Cundíns, Iria

My dissertation asserts that folklore under the Iberian fascist regimes portrayed a distorted mirror of the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula. In this operation, social deviance was a key category for political folklore in order to address wider audiences. Staging Deviant Traditions argues that the Spanish Francoist regime (1936/39-1975) and the Portuguese Estado Novo (1933-1974) utilized folklorists and folk performers who deviated from the social identities privileged by fascism. These folk ensembles reified traditional dance and music while deliberately ignoring the popular communities that produced and circulated vernacular repertoires. This dissertation not only places the Iberian politics of folklore within the broader frame of interwar fascist cultural policies but also follows the evolution of these politics during the Cold War by focusing on three cases: the Coros y Danzas of Sección Femenina, the Bailados Portugueses Verde Gaio, and the Ballet Gallego Rey de Viana.

Staging Deviant Traditions begins by studying, in its Introduction, the politics of folklore under the Rome-Berlin Axis. Nazi Germany and fascist Italy massively institutionalized folklore through technology to control the narrative about the essence of the people and used tradition to construct a new fascist art through reactionary modernism. These experiences shaped the folklore of the time and inflected processes of traditional culture appropriation in the Iberian regimes, as explored in the three chapters that follow.

In Chapter 1, “Coros y Danzas and the Political-Affective Reinvention of the Folklorist Role,” I study how Sección Femenina, the female elite of the Spanish fascist party, and its work in the Coros y Danzas women’s troupes intervened in the folklore transmission circuit to make themselves indispensable to the fascist government by recreating folklore, notwithstanding a regime that disavowed women’s political agency. Establishing its members as folklore agents who researched and collected autochthonous music and dance, Coros y Danzas managed to appropriate that traditional repertoire according to a gendered vision of women as vessels of vernacular culture. Coros y Danzas transformed folklore into fetishized sentimental spectacle drawing on affects and emotions as social practice so that their reified productions became associated with them affectively and politically. These reified productions, performed outside Spanish borders, used folk music and dance to create a sentimental Spanish community that sought to overcome dissidence and generate acceptance of the dictatorship; this movement enabled the organization to further secure its own position within Francoism.

Chapter 2, “Verde Gaio: Queering Folk Dances for the Elite,” centers on the Estado Novo’s use of the Grupo de Bailados Portugueses Verde Gaio (1940-1983) as a cosmopolitan tool to promote a deceptive modernist image of the regime before select audiences. The head of the SPN/SNI (Secretariado de Propaganda Nacional, Secretariado Nacional da Informação), modernist intellectual António Ferro, aimed to create a state-owned ballet company following Ballets Russes’ homoerotic art. He chose queer dancer Francis Graça, trained at the revue, as Verde Gaio’s principal and choreographer. In preceding decades, the Orpheu intellectuals paved the way for queer modernism, and select artists were active in establishing the Verde Gaio. Despite the repression of sexual deviance under the Estado Novo, the Verde Gaio deployed queer aesthetic sensibilities and homoerotic images as a glamorous tool for diplomatic and domestic political affairs. At the same time, the Secretariado obliterated more vulgar sexual references in the vernacular repertoire, from which Verde Gaio took inspiration, while appearing to move with the times of cosmopolitan arts.

Finally, in Chapter 3, “Negotiating Subalternity: The Ballet Gallego Rey de Viana against Flamenco,” I trace how the folklore troupe Ballet Gallego Rey de Viana (1949-2006) instrumentalized the Celtic and the Galician matriarchal myths to guarantee Galician privileged position within Francoist cultural diplomacy. However, these topoi, promoted by Spanish centralist circles, contributed to deactivating Galician ambitions of political autonomy and fostering Spanish internal colonialism in Galiza. By inserting Galician vernacular culture within the Celtic community, Rey de Viana pursued securing a more European image of the regime abroad than the exoticized picture provided by flamenco as the Spanish national dance. Through this operation, Rey de Viana aspired to oust flamenco by portraying a desirable gendered image of Spain abroad while cementing the Galician subaltern position within Francoism.

Relying on diverse archival sources, such as correspondence, administrative documents, video footage, and newsclippings, Staging Deviant Traditions shows how Iberian fascist regimes depended on deviant social identities performing in folk ensembles so that reified music and dance traditions would become aesthetically and affectively associated with the dictatorships.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Rios-Font, Wadda
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 13, 2022