CEREBRAL FLAMENCO? Yerbabuena
seemed to have theory on her mind.
Is there such a thing as conceptual flamenco dancing? You’d think that a dance form so reliant on disclosing inner emotional states would be hard pressed to get cerebral, but when Eva Yerbabuena returned to Boston this weekend, after a six-year absence, as part of World Music/CRASHarts’ ninth annual Flamenco Festival, theory seemed to be on her mind. (The festival concludes this coming week with the lovely Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca, also at the Cutler Majestic.)
Yerbabuena, who grew up in Granada, recycled a number of pieces from her touring repertory for the current Santo y seña (“Signs and Wonders”) program. The show starts in inky tones and works its way toward the light. The charcoal light of “De la cava (siguiriya)” washes a solo that evokes remembered sadness and presumed ambivalence. Male singers, miked and seated on the aisles in the house, reach out to her with their voices, breaking through the theater’s fourth wall and coaxing both dancer and audience closer. An augmented flamenco combo — one that embellishes the heartfelt melisma of the singers, with two jazzy guitars led by her husband, Paco Jarana, plus contemporary sax and flute — emerges out of the darkness as Yerbabuena shrugs a dark velvet shoulder and lifts the ruffles of her hem to liberate her footwork.
Her tactic is contrast. She juxtaposes the snapping accents of her crisp footwork with the lingering curlicues of her wrists. A flurry of motion is punctuated with sudden stops that seem to take the presence of the musicians, of her audience, into account — as if she’d been roused from her reverie. This technique builds up density element by element, and especially when “De la cava” culminates in a series of intricate, masculine foot brushes, her rhythmic clarity is jaw-dropping.
Yerbabuena plays a different conceptual game in “Espumas del recuerdo (mirabras).” She’s dressed in creamsicle layers, and her solo is a sassy exploration of how her fringed orange shawl can extend flamenco dancing’s Moorish curves into the space surrounding her. During her set figures and their variations, her enormous, frothy train follows her around the stage like an amiable pet, and she disciplines it as she bends and twists, transforming it into a series of shifting environments that she can span and dominate.
The two other solos Saturday night presented Yerbabuena the skilled technician but not always Yerbabuena the artist. In “Quiero y no quiero (tientos-tangos)” and the slightly truncated finale, “Cadencia (soleá-bulería),” it was abundantly clear that she is the complete package — footwork, arms, the resilient backbends and articulation in her hips and midriff that made sense of some of the flamenco rhythms at the center of her torso — but overall her dancing became mannered. It’s possible she was tired. International touring can take its toll, and flamenco is an art where inspiration is chained to public expediency.