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Rajika Puri
Performance Reviews
London, OT (England)

Eva Yerbabuena, and Company at the Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, 9-14 July, 2002.

by Rajika Puri
July 26, 2002
London, OT (England)

Eva Yerbabuena, and Company at the Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, 9-14 July, 2002.

By Rajika Puri

July 26, 2002

Eva Yerbabuena, the classically elegant flamenco dancer who only started her own company four years ago and is already hailed as one of the major forces in the flamenco world today, brought to London her seminal show, Eva, which premiered at the 1998 Bienal of Flamenco in Seville. The show continues to undergo changes Ð as much dictated by who she has in her company at any one time as by her continual and organic response to its conceptual intent.

Eva is a very personal Ð almost internal - view of flamenco, one which seems to guide her even before she composes a dance. The evening begins and ends with her seated dramatically in a chair Ð back arched and listening intently to scratchy instrumental music that comes from a phonograph. She gets up, as it were to visualise the music, seeking out it's 'feel', it's aire, through movements of the upper limbs, twists of the body, and silent steps that were precursors to the foot-stomping we associate with theatrical flamenco today.

Yerbabuena is petite, and has a distinctive way of moving her arms and torso. In Eva she does many of her dances as solos, presenting the quintessence of, say, solea, alegrias, or granaina, the latter a palo (generic song form) that is not typically danced. She is always guided by her musicality, thus combining within her choreography both the virtues of theatrically presented flamenco and the almost improvised quality of old-style dancers who are moved to stand up and dance during a musical concert.

For all it's popularity outside Andalusia as a fiery fiesta of complex foot-work and emotionally contorted faces, in it's native milieu flamenco is essentially a song form Ð even solo guitar concerts are a relatively recent phenomenon. Each genre of cante (song) has a developmental history, and the lyrics of most songs can be identified not only by province - Granada, say Ð or town, like Cadiz, but also by a legendary singer who made them famous, and perhaps even composed them. The dance, too, began essentially as a solo expression of a particular cante and initially only a few, like the alegrias, tangos, and bulerias, were danced, performed at local fiestas, or juergas, as an adjunct to the music.

That Yerbabuena is a 'musician's dancer' is testified by the fact that she can attract singers of the calibre of Enrique Soto, and Segundo Falcon, and the young phenomenon, Archangel, whose voice really does soar, angel-like, in a high register, to accompany her. In this aspect she is complemented by her husband, Paco Jarana, lead guitarist and composer of her music. She is also a 'dancer's dancer' in that for all her early rise to fame (she is still only in her thirties), she is considered by colleagues and aficiones alike to be a sound and 'pure' performer who maintains the dignity of her art as she fashions a theatrical presentation like Eva, or her recent 5Mujeres5, for which she has won many prestigious prizes.

At Sadler's Wells, her solos were a granaina in a bata de cola (the long, flounced train which often wraps itself around a dancers lower limbs as she turns in place) and her signature palo, the solea, which perhaps most allows expression of the 'deep' soul of a dancer. In her serious dances, Yerbabuena maintains an inward focus, and makes little attempt to 'project' a personality. Instead she seems to let the movements speak for themselves. One looks forward to seeing her work deepen as she matures, for already she has peso, weight, even if she seems to be more moved by rhythm than by the soul of the song.

Sadly, her particular way of moving does not always flatter other dancers. Thus her company did not come off too well as they gamely executed her choreography which, though it employs more contemporary ways of placing dancers, and incorporates interesting ways of entering and melding sections of dances, nevertheless fails to hold one's attention. The choreography for the three male dancers was bland; and her two female company members, for all their enthusiasm, simply looked as if they were reflections of her. Fortunately there was always the excellent music to focus on.

The highlight of the evening was an unexpected pleasure: an alegrias from the romerias song family, not mentioned in the program. After the solemnity of the other palos, the delightful, almost tongue-in-cheek, air she brought to the stage reminded one that Yerbabuena is also something of an actress. Her whole body changed it's feel, as she raised her skirt, played coquettishly with the music, and expressed an infectious 'alegria' (happiness) with her delicate foot work. For Yerbabuena doesn't pound her feet. Instead she plays the floor almost like a delicate drum Ð letting the rhythms speak, and making you forget how lightning fast the sounds she makes actually are.

It is no wonder that Mike Figgis (of Leaving Las Vegas fame) was fascinated enough to focus on her and the other young flamenco dancer who has been making waves, Sara Baras, in the documentary film Flamenco Women and later include her in the star-studded cast of his latest film Hotel. La Yerbabuena, it would seem is also a 'film-maker's dancer'.

This year Yerbabuena will premier yet another show with her company at the 12th Bienal of Flamenco in Seville. (And those who are lucky enough to catch it, will get an opportunity to see Dharma which the Compania Andaluza de Danza commissioned from her.) No doubt the new show will be toured through Europe and the United States. We look forward to it.

Eva Yerbabuena
Photography by Josè Luis Alvarez

Eva Yerbabuena in action

Rajika Puri, a Dancer and Actor, is involved in two projects which combine Indian classical dance and music with flamenco. (cf. http://www.rajikapuri.com/flamyam_proj.html & http://www.narthaki.com/info/article15.html)

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