Review: Ay! Eva Yerbabuena

By Bess Twiston-Davies

Was it a foot? Or was it an instrument? Hard to tell, so fluid was the sound of Eva Yerbabuena’s mint-sharp zapateo. There was a seamless echo – foot, music, sound – all melding together into one. Mesmerising.

This was Ay!, her 2013 choreography on a second visit to Sadler’s Wells. The energy was high, the curtain blood-red. It lifted on a pool of light in darkness. With slow, deliberate steps, Eva Yerbabuena crossed the light. Then stopped, crossed her arms and let her hands flap, flutter to the sky. The subtle, the subtext is the story of Ay! The choreography is “about the space between words, the half-formed thought, “ explains Yerbabuena.

She adds: “I wlll miss: one shadow, one dream… maybe the uncertain feeling of having lived the next second without now… I learnt from a beggar that in spaces among dreams are the names of all those things that are nameless by being invisible. And they can be seen, heard, touched… felt. If you take notice They are only syllables, words, that everyone has pronounced without knowing their meaning; and they are looking g to be breathed in vain, feeling that there is someone in the world who has named them, felt them, lived them just for a while.”

So a large bulky man appeared behind Yerbabuena singing ‘bajo el silencio’ as she acted a domestic tragedy – turning to the man, raising her hands – which appear preternaturally large – to his face. Before they reach it, he casts her off. She tries again, then spins off into despair, rejected. He sings, and sings, her arms swing like a clock gone mad to left and right. Each move is a perfect match to the music. “It is as though she is going mad trying to express something,” said the friend I had come with.

This was not showy flamenco; nothing was exuberant nor played for the gallery. Eva Yerbabuena has a reputation for being pure, a true artist, who never grants an interview, who shuns celebrity. Watching her dance was to enter a private universe, of shadows, fragments, broken hearts, pain. Was this dream or nightmare?

The light faded. Yerbabuena appeared suspended through the centre of a large mis-shaped chair, a creation straight from the hands of Dali. She flapped like a bird through the bars. A man struck the right and left side of the chair in perfect, pure rhythms.

Then, casually she picked up a pair of ruffles – in grey and white – cast on a patterned skirt and fixed a fabric rose to the top of her head. Three men appeared out of the shadows, clapping, wailing. They sang of prison, or burning their clothes. She danced with frenetic speed, with a look of mockery, survivor’s disdain. It had the feel, said my friend, of a gypsy encampment.

She shed her extra skirt and frills, still tapping and stamping, dropping them casually on the floor, as we marvelled at her footwork. Sharp, staccato, she skittered across the floor. “It takes a year to learn just one of those foot moves,” said my friend, touched by flamenco envy. She had taken many classes.

Then came a tragic interlude, with Yerbabuena praying, then stretched over a table that split in half, as a man sang plaintively of ‘caresses of marble’. She vanished, ceding the stage to the three singers, each with a strong, powerful voice, especially El Extremeño. Occasionally he was a little overpowering. At last, in the semi-light she re-appeared creeping on the stage, her head bowed behind a fuchsia shawl. She wore a baton de cola, quickly looping up the tail of her ruffled purple skirt to treat us to a display of quick-fire zapateo. Her shawl too was part of the stage prop, somewhere to hide behind, and then dramatically fling -wrap across her figure.

Eventually, it ended, Yerbabuena cast in a pool of light, her body to the back of us, her head thrown back towards us, as if, for the first time, acknowledging the audience. We gave her a standing ovation and were rewarded – with one final burst of flamenco as swirling her shawl to great effect she sashayed off the stage. ¡Olé!