Presented by the World Music Institute & Miguel Marin Productions as part of Flamenco Festival New York 2005 at City Center, 131 W. 55 St., NYC, Jan. 28-30.
The flamenco artist Eva Yerbabuena made absolutely certain that no one in the packed audience at City Center would wonder which one she was—by placing herself front and center at all times with long solos in two ballets: "Eva" (on Saturday evening) and "5 Mujeres 5 (5 Women 5)" (on Sunday evening). Her basic idea is to use flamenco as a language to convey her innermost emotions, so that the heel trilling—which was quite remarkable—becomes somewhat like a ballerina's pointe work: underpinnings of the artist's language and the instrument by which the dancer propels herself through the musical phrases.
Yerbabuena is a stocky figure with short legs and small feet; nevertheless, the sounds she makes with them are thrilling. Having a small torso shortens the effect of the classic arched back of the flamenco dancer, though, and she shows off this uninspiring posture for long periods. There are no castanets for Yerbabuena, only a great deal of wrist-circling, kicking the ruffles of her gowns from side to side, and throwing the arms in the air often to signal a spotlight raining down on her upturned head. Her choreography (from the ankles up) is curiously benign, possibly because so much is repetition. Passion and sexiness, mainstays of the art form, are not served up easily. The women of the company are unimpressive and, at the finale, are dressed in long, gray, dowdy dresses with a hint of ruffles at the ankles. No polka dots, no brilliant red, no flashing eyes. The men, with wet, stringy hair whipping about their heads, wear expressions that read, "How many more minutes before I can sip a sangria?" They follow their counts perfectly, but without heart.
The audience also seemed less engaged: Customary shouts of affirmation were minimal until the end, when the company bowed to a standing ovation. Eva desperately needs a stylist to rid her of the schoolmarm look and get some gutsiness into her wardrobe, hairdos, and choreography. A small woman who must fill the stage needs other eye-catching effects in addition to crisp foot patterns.