Take a close look at the landscape of dance and music both at home and around the world and you might find yourself asking the Seinfeldian rhetorical question: What's the deal with flamenco? The shoes, the clothes, the combinatory fury and vulnerability, powerfully exotic women consumed with fierce pride and wild Gypsy abandon—it seems as though flamenco is the original Sex and the City. Ask your flamenco-mad friends and they'll tell you that flamenco dance and music ravishes you and inspires confidence and a driving sense of strong self-esteem that not only takes charge, but can take over, leading to incendiary affairs and all manner of reawakenings. Portland alone has any number of music and dance groups, studios, classes and an entire weeklong summer festival. And tonight Portlanders have the opportunity to see the magnificent Eva Yerbabuena, a visionary heir to the tradition who could easily be, as one critic noted, "contemporary flamenco's Martha Graham."
Grounded originally in a muy macho ritual of sorts, flamenco roles seem to be changing—and at last the fire for a matriarchal revolution is being fueled by artists like Ballet Flamenco's Eva Yerbabuena. No cozily folkloric peasant dance, Yerbabuena's art celebrates, at a near-operatic level, "women who we remember for their struggle to express themselves as women, women who become almost mythical to us."
Stepping out of the shadows of masters like Rafael Aguilar and JoaquÍn CortÉs, La Yerbabuena ("mint" in Spanish) breathes fresh life into large-scale flamenco work. Mannered, at times introspective and austere—but never lacking in surging fire and sensuality—Eva Yerbabuena dazzlingly weaves together flamenco's infectious rhythmic forms, louche jazz-like undulance and a stark theatricality with singular originality. It's easy to see why she's been the go-to seÑora for everyone from choreographer Pina Bausch to Oscar-winning film director Mike Figgis and Stomp. She nurtures both choreographic innovation and the roots of flamenco's brooding intensity with delicious postmodernist Élan—placing it somewhere between intimate "tablao" and duende-rich performance art.
What keeps this centuries-old form relevant is its ability to reach simultaneously backward and forward in time and affect us. Like tango or jazz, it's a bawdy art form of the dispossessed—gut-wrenching in its tales of longing, crime, love and death—that appeals to our primal expression of pain, lust and passion. But unlike many folk-dance forms (say, Morris dancing, clogging or Celtic step-dancing), flamenco's vivid, hi-res dynamics can contend with our media-saturated, modern glam sensibilities—and few do it better than the sensational Yerbabuena. She gets it. The costumes, the emotional immediacy and flamenco's "rage for living" feeds into our insatiable appetite that craves spectacle, flair, over-the-top expression and ultimately an art form that celebrates strong women in fabulously good shoes.
White Bird presents Ballet Flamenco Eva Yerbabuena's
at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, 790-2787. 7:30 pm Wednesday, Nov. 29. $18-$52.