Monday, 18 March 2013

Eva Yerbabuana, Sadlers Wells Flamenco Festival 2013

"Is that it" the woman behind me said when Friday evening's performance ended at 20:50, having started the traditional ten minutes late. Well, yes it was, and what more could she have wanted. Possibly some sets, a troupe and a bigger band, plus some upbeat stuff, as in Eva's shows in the early years of the Sadlers Wells Flamenco Festival. Three years ago Eva gave us Rain, a piece that was modern dance for the first twenty minutes, last year there were some uneasy moments in When I Was involving pottery clay, and this year brings the stark and stripped down Ay!. Three cantores, a violinist, her husband Paca Jarana on guitar, a percussionist and Eva herself. In black. All the time.

The blindingly fast rat-tat-tat is still there, as was her trademark traverse of the stage by tapping and not seeming to actually move her legs. There was the dance with the shawl, and the passage I like best, where she portrays the angry and upset wife, throwing her hands around, stamping and being cross, while the cantore as husband pleads and remonstrates with her without for one moment losing his manliness. I have no idea what the row is about as I don't speak Spanish. There was a duel between two of the cantores, one passage of which delighted the Spanish in the audience, and there was drumming and guitar work.

It had, in other words, all the traditional moments. And it was more. This was the premiere, and they hadn't quite settled into it. There was a passage where they got lost in the improvisations and couldn't bring shape to it. And that's why it was more. I've said before and will repeat as often as necessary: the best flamenco artists today are amongst the best artists performing anywhere in any genre. When we get to Yerbabuana and her troupe, the comparisons are with the very, very best jazz artists. At that level, it simply doesn't matter if they lose their way for five minutes, because watching artists of that calibre teaches us something no matter what they are doing. Who cares if Ornette Coleman fluffs a note? Or if Keith Jarrett stops a minute in because he's not feeling it? At that level, simply watching the artists at work is a privilege.

That's what the lady behind me didn't get. Yerbabuana moved on from being a virtuoso entertainer a while ago. She's worked with Baryshnikov and Pina Bausch, and that's not something Arlene Phillips ever did. Her work is no longer judged by us, it's something by which we have to judge ourselves.

And when it all comes together, it is as ever breathtaking and moving.

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