Review – Eva Yerbabuena, “Cuando Yo Era” – 2011 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival

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Given that the program for this year’s Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells featured a woman in a polka-dotted bata de cola dress on the cover, Eva Yerbabuena’s contribution, a dance piece advertised with her covered in mud, seemed quite likely to be skipping most of the traditions of the form in favor of something … different. Somehow. I want to say “more personal, more revelatory, more experiential” but what we wound up with wasn’t any of these things. It was much more narrative (or it was certainly trying to be); as the program notes explained, the presentation was of the thoughts running through a man’s mind in the seconds before he is executed.

So what are these thoughts? Memories of an old lover – a girl treating a boy like a fool – bars – a cockfight – Carnevale – and rather a lot of time spent messing about in a potter’s workshop. I didn’t need to have much of a story linking these scenes together, as I’m perfectly used to watching a story ballet in which nearly an hour is given over to “and then people dance in front of the prince and/or princess” – I’m looking for good dance and willing to be flexible about coherence. The scene in a cafe, in which a gorgeous young man (Eduardo Guerrero) attempts to impress a lovely woman in a garish dress, was a delight – both of them posing and flirting and playing off of the band members. Ms. Yerbabuena joined the group on stage, duetting with Guerrero so as both of them spun, her shawl and his coat flew off their bodies to create Saturn-like rings around them. And Guerrero’s duet with Fernando Jimenez, both wearing knee-length tights trimmed with feathers, bells on one’s wrists and the other’s legs, seemed like nothing more than a fight for dominance between two roosters. It was unflamenco-like but in the spirit of the (frequently over-)masculine dance style, and Spanish culture, and I was utterly absorbed.

But. The clay. The pot. The splashing of slip (watered down clay) on Ms Yerbabuena, the spinning of her on a large lazy Susan, the crushing of wet clay pots. The boredom. The pretentiousness. The lack of opportunity for her to really show her stuff because she was so busy being symbolic. I missed her gorgeous arms being allowed to tell a different story, her skill at moving skirts and fans and creating beauty, and resented that she’d trusted her dancing skill so little she’d had to layer on this weighty, dull, “we’re really about more than polka-dots and bullfighting” stuff on top of the performance. As modern dance, it seemed extremely immature, like something a college student would have made.

In the world of flamenco, perhaps this is a performance that is really moving the art form forward. But when you pour all of this extra on top, you are suddenly in the world of a very different style of dance, one that is far more advanced with use of metaphors. It’s sad, really; Yerbabuena is a very talented dancer and I think it’s good that she’s trying to do more than just have people in costumes stamping around on stage (this being not at all how I feel about flamenco, of course). But it didn’t trust the dance enough and it was a waste of the incredible resources that came together to create it. Musically, fantastic; costumes (a dusty palette) delicious and unusual (though a good support bra would have done wonders); artistically, limp. Wah. Still, as she was my favorite performer of last year, there is no doubt that I will be coming to watch her again; but Israel Galvan, giving us nothing more than three men in black on a bare stage, delivered so much more exultation in the end.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 18th, 2011. The Sadler’s Wells 2011 Flamenco festival is now over.)

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