Eva Yerbabuena


Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK

9-14 July, 2002
By Emma Pegler

Lamps of crystal
and green mirrors.

On the darkened stage,
Parrala maintains
a conversation
with Death.
She calls Death,
But Death never comes,
and she calls out again.
The people are
inhaling her sobs.
And in the green mirrors,
her long, silk train
sways back and forth.

Flamenco Cabaret by Federico García Lorca
from Poem of the Deep Song (translated by Carlos Bauer)

"Yerbabuena" means "mint" and it was indeed refreshing to see Eva – the person and the show – at Sadler’s Wells last week. La Yerbabuena is somewhat of a cult figure in Spain so that should tell you something about the quality of her flamenco dancing. In Spain, flamenco is not just a sentimental folk dance loved by nationalists; rather, the various dances and songs that fall under the broad umbrella of "flamenco" add up to an art form that is savoured and appreciated by all echelons of society – from King to pauper. García Lorca wrote whole books of poetry on the subject.

Flamenco shows have been "done" many times before and invariably they leave the discerning audience cold. The rhythmic stamping of feet, the flashing of kohl-lined eyes and the wailing of the cantaores (flamenco singers) can always raise a resounding applause amongst the uninitiated because, like a bullfight, it is a spectacle. In a smoky bar in downtown Seville, one would pretty much enjoy anything served up as flamenco after two large whiskies. (It is the custom for flamenco to be danced in a small, improvised theatre at the back of the bar with the audience crammed around little tables. Since you can’t move and so can’t leave, you really have no choice but to grit your teeth and enjoy yourself.) Yet the true heart of the flamenco and the authentic expression of the soul through dance and song, is rarely found in its purest form. La Yerbabuena and her company, Ballet Flamenco Eva Yerbabuena, come damned close to that perfection in Eva even though the performance takes place on a large impersonal stage with none of the intimacy of a smoky bar.

There is an attempt at a story line in Eva. In the opening scene a girl in a long, plain, brown jersey dress seated on a bent-wood chair in front of an old gramophone wakes from a dream but continues in a dream-like state, conjuring up musicians and singers as she takes centre-stage in a journey of self-expression through different gypsy dances that make up the generic dance-form that is flamenco. It is a weak story-line and the dancing turns out to be so good that any kind of justification for it is unnecessary. Two male singers walk into the spotlight and begin their lament. A third appears and then the lights lift to show that the musicians were there in the shadows all the time. (I was relieved that we were spared the feminine wailing that can clutter up flamenco shows.) One male flamenco dancer appears, then a second, then a third. Dressed in well-cut black suits and white shirts, the sexy trio of Pedro Cordoba, Juan Carlos Cardoso and Luis Miguel, dance a bulerias, a driving, energetic gypsy dance. Eva appears in a long, white figure-hugging dress with frills at the bottom – the type of dress that is featured on postcards in Andalucia. As she struts and turns her granaina, the dress follows her like a snake caught round her ankles – it inhibits her and then she masters it; it slows her movement and then she kicks it away to reveal slender ankles and feet that drum the stage as if a humming-bird is lightly brushing the floor with its wing.

One of the elements that sets flamenco apart from other dance forms is that the torso is kept very still and controlled. The arms move around it, striking poses and positions, to express the feeling and the mood, whilst the feet beat out the rhythm. Eva adds another dimension to this that I haven’t seen before – whilst maintaining the torso straight and taut, she tilts it from side to side as she flicks the skirt with her feet. Whereas other dancers can appear stiff and angular, she moves the body as an organism with a movement of the head sending a shock-wave down through her diminutive body to move her feet.

With her dark hair pulled back severely to accentuate her black eyes and with her long brown muscular arms flashing indignantly around her body, Eva is clearly the exponent of the heart of old Spain. This is her stage persona for she is in every sense a modern young woman. At 31 she not only runs her own company but is a wife and mother. Her composer/musician husband, Paco Jarana, is part of the company. He composed the music for Eva and plays the guitar during the show. Yerbabuena is credited with modernising flamenco and whilst her inspiration and technique are clearly traditional and faithful to the glorious past, gone are the layers of ill-fitting frou-frou, fringed shawls, castanets and wailing gypsies. The costumes chosen by Eva, and made by Jimena San Roman, cleverly integrate traditional flamenco aesthetic with modern design. In the final ‘tangos’ (a gypsy flamenco originating in Cadiz) the other two dancers in the company, Mercedes Ruiz Munoz and Sara Vazquez, wear plain white, round-necked ‘designer’ dresses. The tiers of material that drop from the waist, although clearly Spanish in style, are cut with a modern simplicity that produces a sleek and elegant look that would equally be at home in St. Tropez.

Eva, the company’s first show, was premiered at the biennial flamenco gathering in 1998. Since then, Eva has won many prizes in Spain and critical acclaim throughout the world of people that know about flamenco. That includes Pina Bausch – Eva was invited to dance in Wuppertal as part of the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of Bausch’s company – and Mike Figgis who made a documentary around her entitled Flamenco Women. There have been musings from various quarters that Eva dominates the company and the other dancers barely “get a look in.” I disagree – if the master’s name carries the billing, you want to see the master more than a token amount. To integrate other dancers around such a plainly brilliant dancer is not an easy feat. Yet she has produced a well-balanced performance which shows off the musicians in a way that doesn’t dominate and drown the noise of the artistry in the dancers’ drumming heels, that shows off the other five dancers in a way that is more than token, but which stops short of a breach of the ‘Trade Descriptions Act.’ If I pay for Eva, I want Eva.

Eva Yerbabuena & Co. will be performing their latest show at the 12th Flamenco Biennial in Seville at the beginning of October this year. She is also currently touring 5 Mujeres 5 around Europe.


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Edited by Marie.

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