Fancy footwork … Eva Yerbabuena dances a set of fandangos
A small performer with a big presence – she’s just 5ft tall – Eva Yerbabuena embodies the conflicts of flamenco itself: an innovator who admires tradition, an individualist who reveres formal discipline, an introverted person with an expressive persona.
Eva María Garrido García (the name Yerbabuena – “mint” – was given much later by a guitarist friend) was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1970, but just two weeks later she returned to her family home in Granada, Spain. She was raised by her grandparents while her parents, a builder and a hairdresser, continued working in Germany. She began flamenco classes at 11 at an aunt’s behest, and a year later, after seeing a performance by the legendary singer Camarón de la Isla, she was smitten for good. At just 15, she began performing professionally with Rafael Aguilar; at 16, she left home to work with the dance company of singer Paco Moyano in Seville. Soon she was performing in festivals, and invited to work with big-name artists such as Manolete and Merche Esmeralda. It was in Seville, too, at the age of 19, that she met her husband-to-be, the musician Paco Jarana.
Going solo … Yerbabuena dances La Robe de Grenade
In 1998 Yerbabuena formed her own dance company. The same year, the choreographer Pina Bausch invited her to perform in the Wuppertal Dance Theatre 25th anniversary festival, and she created Mi Niña Manuela, for the Ballet Nacional de España. Since her personal, highly acclaimed Eva (1999), she has garnered strings of awards for performance and choreography, and toured internationally.
Yerbabuena has worked twice with film director Mike Figgis, for the 1997 documentary Flamenco Women and the 2001 experimental feature Hotel, and also appeared in Stomp’s Imax film Pulse (2002). Offstage, Yerbabuena prefers to avoid the limelight, and continues to live in the quiet town of Dos Hermanas, the hometown of her husband Paco.
Because flamenco dancing is predominantly a solo art in dialogue with music, flamenco choreographers – including Yerbabuena – are typically strongest with solos (expressive, detailed, commanding) or duets (nuanced with competition, co-operation or desire), but weaker with larger ensembles, which tend towards unison patterns.
All a-twirl … Yerbabuena dances a soleá
Two apparent conflicts make Yerbabuena’s work distinctive. The first is a tension between traditional and non-traditional flamenco. Yerbabuena herself is fiercely committed to the essential forms of flamenco – its rhythms, steps and styles; its relation to music. But she also makes flamenco for the theatre. She wants to stage ideas and express herself, and for that she departs from tradition where necessary, using modern set designs, choreographing for theatrical space, using non-flamenco dancers. Her production designs, like her choreography, are often sparse and elemental. The second tension is between her expressive performing persona and her self-effacing personality. Yerbabuena has said that because she was intensely shy as a girl, flamenco became “a cover … a kind of refuge”. That tension between self-exposing performance and introspective performer imparts a particular intensity to her dancing; it’s no coincidence that she is most famous for her interpretations of the soleá, the Flamenco dance of solitude.
Yerbabuena’s most important artistic collaborator is also her most important personal one: her husband Jarana, who is her regular composer and the musical director of her company.
When Yerbabuena was 12, she wrote to King Carlos and Queen Sofía of Spain asking if they could help her parents pay for her flamenco classes. (They couldn’t, but her teacher arranged for her to coach younger dancers in payment for her own lessons.)
‘Stunningly filmed’ … Yerbabuena in Mike Figgis’s Hotel (2001)
In her own words
“It’s therapy for me. Dance is my ‘cover’.” – Interview with Fermín Lobatón, Flamenco World
“Singing is the first thing that touches your soul. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great voice, so I have to try to dance what I can’t sing.” – Interview with Spain magazine
“No matter what I choreograph, I think in terms of having a conversation with my audience. Emotion is so central to flamenco that not to touch people would be a failure.” – Interview with Valerie Gladstone, LA Times
In other words
“Yerbabuena may not have the flashiest technique, but she has something rarer. She has the kind of artistry that appears once in a generation, if at all.” – Jenny Gilbert, Independent on Sunday, 2002
“Yerbabuena is an innovator, coupling her transformative power as a dancer with a desire to treat theatrical-style flamenco as a vehicle for grownups.” – Donald Hutera, Times, 2005
“… a modern simplicity that reaches to the heart of flamenco and makes it burn.” – Nadine Meisner, Independent, 2002
La Yerbabuena. Sounds more in-the-know.
Ay ay ay!
Rooftop romance … Yerbabuena in the film Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey (2002)
Now watch this
Yerbabuena rehearsing with musicians, in Mike Figgis’s documentary Flamenco Women (1997)
Figgis again: Yerbabuena’s stunningly filmed sequence in Hotel (2001)
Atmospheric sequence on a Granada rooftop, from the film Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey (2002)
An electrifying solo
There are also several videos on this page.
Where to see her next
See the Eva Yerbabuena website (in Spanish) for performance dates.