Review: Eva Yerbabuena - ¡Ay! - Flamenco Festival London - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 23 - 24 January 2015
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 27 February 2015

Eva Yerbabuena 
Photo: Daniel Perez, Teatro Cervantes

Performance reviewed: 23 February 2015

Two years ago, the UK premiere of this show at Sadler’s Wells led Eva Yerbabuena to become the first flamenco dancer to be nominated by the UK dance critics as Best Female Dancer in the National Dance Awards and it quickly becomes abundantly clear from this reprise why that was so. The only dancer on stage for 90 minutes, she appears in all but one of the seven sequences, making this event effectively a long, intense and exhausting solo.

This tiny dancer (barely 5’ tall) commands the stage with her redoubtable charisma allied to a unique theatrical mix of traditional and contemporary flamenco. There is much about her spirit and beauty that reminds me of another great Spanish dancer, Tamara Rojo (incidentally, nominated alongside Yerbabuena in those same 2013 awards). Rojo is 40, Yerbabuena, 44: ages that are barely credible in relation to their athleticism, physicality and undiminished prowess as supreme dancers in their separate genres.

Another influence in Yerbabuena’s creativity is that of the late Pina Bausch. They first worked together in 2001, as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of Bausch’s company in Wuppertal, to where the flamenco artist has returned to perform annually, ever since. The dramatic impact of tanztheater is evident throughout ¡Ay! in exaggerated gesture, long pauses, oddly-shaped props, plus atmospheric lighting and smoke, each of which is part of an ongoing process to provoke thought, create intimacy and suggest allusion.

The opening minutes of ¡Ay! were especially Bauschian, also bringing to mind the notion of a mysterious Woman in Black as Yerbabuena slowly walked through the smoky, dark and empty stage, heading towards the thin sphere of downwards illumination coming from a single spot, but, having arrived in the circle of light, she continued to walk through it and back into darkness, repeating this ghostly process in different spots, again and again. Another early departure from the traditional references of flamenco is that her opening musical accompaniment comes not from the usual guitar, percussion or voice, but from an unseen violinist (Vladimir Dimitrenco).

Interestingly – and uniquely, amongst the various components of this two-week flamenco festival at Sadler’s Wells – the elements of her programme are given English titles, which further suggest that Yerbabuena is an international dance artiste with a broader language than flamenco alone. This quietly reflective first sequence, for example, was appropriately entitled Whisper.

A misshapen, high-backed chair, leaning leftwards by some degrees and an apparently solid table (which subsequently split into two halves) were her principal props throughout this series of plotless scenes, providing surfaces on which she could dance, lie on or hang from, by hooking her arms through part of the chair frame. In the second sequence (From sideways) she seemed to align her body to the distortions of the chair while her percussionist (Antonio Coronel) taps out the rhythm on the frame itself as if it is a deconstructed cajón (the box that percussionists sit on to play). Once discarded, the props remained on stage until the curtain call.

Musical direction comes from her excellent guitarist, Paco Jarana, and the musical sextet is completed by a trio of male singers, collectively possessing an impressive vocal range, emphasising both the deep and lyrical aspects of flamenco song (cante). When all three were on stage together it was often impossible to work out – in the sombre lighting – which one was singing since their voices were so well harmonised.

Yerbabuena’s dancing journeyed in and out of a purer form of flamenco as the work progressed through scenes with enigmatic titles (such as Neither you nor without you and Nana and coffee). Her theatrical imagery was often powerful, leaving many indelible memories, but there was not enough light and shade in the later sections to maintain the arresting momentum at the same high level. The overwhelming melancholy of the work in the smoky, darkened atmosphere tested my powers of concentration.

Nonetheless, Yerbabuena’s artistry and stamina are remarkable and her haunting evocation of the dreamlike states of this mysterious woman in black provided an artistic experience to savour.

Flamenco Festival London continues at Sadler’s Wells until 1 March
www.sadlerswells.com



Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He writes for Dancing Times, Dance Europe, Shinshokan Dance Magazine in Japan, Londondance.com, Dancetabs.com and other magazines and websites in Europe and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and of the National Dance Awards in the UK. Find him on Twitter @GWDanceWriter



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