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Flash Review 2, 2-8: The Mistress of Every Muscle
Becoming Whole with Eva Yerbabuena

By Anna Arias Rubio
Copyright 2005 Anna Arias Rubio

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NEW YORK -- Ballet Flamenco Eva Yerbabuena's "5Mujeres5," seen January 30 at City Center, describes the emotional states of a woman passing from loveless solitude through love, ambition and madness, before arriving at a cathartic, transcendent, final solitude. Her mental states and emotions are like those that a flamenco dancer passes through in the performance of a cante grande palo such as solea or seguiriyas. The four women and four men of the cuerpo de baile act as the Greek chorus, sometimes echoing Yerbabuena and sometimes tormenting her. The choreography, by Yerbabuena and Javier LaTorre, proves that in the right hands (and feet) flamenco is a rich enough idiom to tell a complete story.

With the house lights on and the audience still settling into their seats, Yerbabuena enters the stage and sits in a white-draped armchair. She folds her hands in her lap and stares out into the audience, her gaze nonetheless far off, for about five minutes until the spectators quiet down and the stage darkens. Lights flash on, then back off, and from the void we hear footwork like the crescendo of an approaching train. Five women in simple white dresses enter as soprano Marta de Castro sings to the soft guitar of Paco Jarana. The dancers' arms seem to be reaching out for something. Yerbabuena separates herself from the group and acknowledges each woman. To the jazzy flute of Ignacio Vidaechea, four men enter in white suits.

Pepe de Pura, Enrique Soto and Rafael de Utrera sing a forlorn letra that sounds like longing. The cuerpo de baile forms a circle center stage, leaning back, each with one leg extended; their arms and outstretched legs remind me of the hands of a clock. We see time ticking away and feel the agony of waiting. The women leave Yerbabuena with the men. She is surrounded by others yet she is alone. She ends up on the floor, desolate.

Yerbabuena dons a white jacket for the "Ambition" passage, striking matador poses. The men, who earlier left the stage, return and dance to her whim. She snaps her fingers and they freeze. She speaks to them with her feet, which sound like fingers tapping the floor. She dances them off the stage.

"Soledad Parelelo" begins with the sound of a baby cooing and gurgling. Yerbabuena dances grief around and on the armchair, clutching the removed white jacket like the blanket of a child she has lost. She never resorts to melodrama. The soprano sings as she falls limp into the chair.

"Locura" (Madness), the section choreographed by LaTorre, begins with recorded poetry that addresses the dark corners of memory. LaTorre (with whom I spent an intense and tortuous, but inspiring time studying last summer in Spain) is my personal choreographic idol. He has been the mentor of many of the great flamenco dancers working today, such as Maria Pages and Angel Munoz, and I wonder why the World Music Institute and Miguel Marin have never included his company in their programation of the Flamenco Festival. The cuerpo de baile enters with metallic aprons or jackets added to their white costumes. To the rhythm of tangos flamencos, they pace the stage and encircle Yerbabuena. She pounds her feet to try to drive them away but she can't avoid them. I am reminded of Marge Piercy's poem "For Strong Women," in which the author evokes "the memories that get up in the night and pace in boots to and fro." She begins to laugh desperately. They grab at her and torment her until she screams "Nooo!" and they begin to slowly back away.

The soprano sings again and we see Yerbabuena behind a black scrim, changing into a traditional black dress with a gold-flecked jacket to dance her seguiriyas. In this solo we see her come to terms with every emotion already described in the piece.

Eva Yerbabuena is not just an impressive flamenco dancer, she is an impressive dancer, period. She is very short and curvaceous, but the mistress of every tiny muscle. All her movement radiates from the center; her feet only have to reach down to the floor for her footwork. The music enters her body and is displayed in her arms and hands. She has the ability to reach and maintain an intense level of energy that would kill a normal person.

The cuerpo de baile enters, and the armchair beckons. The soprano pushes her towards the chair with her voice and the maestra collapses in the chair, spent, but whole.

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