The fourth Sadler’s Wells flamenco festival opened with a new work by a returning favourite, Eva Yerbabuena. In many ways she encapsulates the festival’s spirit: a consummate flamenco artist, deeply committed to the form yet not afraid to experiment. El Huso de la Memoria (The Spindle of Memory) is neither a drama nor a showcase, but rather a loose montage of scenes reflecting different sides of Yerbabuena’s personality. The most iconic are her own traditional solos, which she performs, characteristically, as if wanting to get inside flamenco’s very bones. She is an austere, elemental dancer who can deliver brio, but is never merely flashy.
Barefoot, in elegant white gown and chic black bob, Badia haunts this production like a forgotten star, forever fading from the limelight
Yerbabuena keeps things bold and simple in her choreography for her company of nine dancers, most strikingly in a scene where they execute fierce rhythmic phrases while pinned to their seats. That sense of struggle against formal constraint also emerges in a tensely erotic duet with guest choreographer Patrick de Bana, Yerbabuena contorting her arms almost as if against her will, while shirtless De Bana stalks her with straight lines and measured paces. Most intriguing of all are recurring scenes featuring Aida Badia, who – like De Bana – trained in ballet rather than flamenco. She brings a taut yet expressive presence to the stage as she sculpts and coils her body in response to the rasping voice of a singer who trails behind her. Barefoot, in elegant white gown and chic black bob, Badia haunts this production like a forgotten star, forever fading from the limelight.
Yerbabuena’s choreographic departures are echoed by Paco Jarana’s music, which is anchored in flamenco traditions but also drifts towards more impressionistic sounds. Oscar Mariné’s muted paintings that flank the stage – a man and woman with elongated faces and impassive eyes – contribute to the sense of enigma at the piece’s heart.
If Yerbabuena seems most secure in her flamenco solos, it is the experiments in style and staging that prove most tantalising – and most frustrating, particularly in the group sections. The opening number, for example, generates a sense of character and theatre using a radically reduced style, but then simply reverts to commonplace flamenco arrangements: squadron formations, in unison or in canon. El Huso de la Memoria doesn’t always meet its own challenges, but it is boldly imagined, and promises more from Yerbabuena in the future.