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Flash Review 1, 3-10: Waiting for the Solea
La Yerbabuena Casts her Spell

By Rebecca Hummel-Moore
Copyright 2004 Rebecca Hummel-Moore

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BERKELEY -- Seeing and hearing flamenco performed by artists as dangerous and exacting as Eva Yerbabuena and her company transports us away from all that is mundane and disappointing, redundant and dull. Here is the antidote to the anesthesia of our lives! The dancer or the singer bravely reveals his or herself totally to the audience amidst a storm of rhythm and emotion. The story is in turns cryptic and heartbreakingly clear. Its origins dwell in distant Andalusian caves and right under our own breastbone.

La Yerbabuena and company performed "Eva" February 28 & 29 at Zellerbach Hall to a sold-out crowd of aficionados, fans and more than a few flamenco dance students. The program departed from the standard tablao-type set of dances and songs. A tablao show, for example, typically ends with the compulsory juerga. This is when American audiences try unsuccessfully to provide palmas (hand-clapping) to hilarious or light-hearted solos performed by the singers or guitarists. Rather, "Eva" is a journey into the cavernous soul of a woman who is enslaved by light, air and demons, and who in turn enslaves the other characters on stage and, of course, the audience.

When Eva Yerbabuena enters the stage midway through "De la Cava," a dramatic piece choreographed to the siguirrilas rhythm, she appears almost as a leader of some kind of cult or as a mistress of torture. The dancers, costumed in black dresses with a red under-ruffle, and who, until now, have been pretty wicked themselves, seem to shrink in her presence and scatter in deference to her lightening footwork. It's as though she wants to punish them and love them all at once. Yerbabuena's modern, compositional staging works most effectively in this ensemble piece, where traditional flamenco and ballet movements tell a story of the inner workings of a tightly knit group of some kind -- a family? a cult? The piece ends in silence as parts of the group move away from the whole in what feels like a painful break-up, until only Yerbabuena remains staring up at some devil in the sky that beckons her Solea.

That stillness, with Yerbabuena looking upward in utter concentration, endures for a full three or four minutes until she at last explodes into dance in "Del Puente," her solea and the climax of the performance. What ensues is an almost painfully suspenseful progression of retention and explosion toward the inevitable solea por bulerias that will deliver the dancer to the wings and the audience to some sort of resolution. Here, La Yerbabuena is at her finest, summoning her insurmountable technique to service the essence of the character, twisting her torso in wild, cocky turns, and shaking her hair free to accentuate her sharp yet graceful arm movements. Her footwork, when she deems it necessary, is, needless to say, stupefying. For those of us in the audience who are waiting for that transition into solea por bulerias to take shape, the answer comes again and again until we are sure she has peaked and indeed will exit the stage fulfilled, triumphant, and reborn.

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