Eva Yerbabuena in 'Lluvia'.  Photo © Klaus Hander (courtesy NTCH)

Eva Yerbabuena in ‘Lluvia’.
Photo © Klaus Hander (courtesy NTCH)

National Theater, Taipei, Taiwan; March 29, 2014

David Mead

“Lluvia” (Spanish for ‘rain’) turned out to be a rather appropriate title this particular evening as the heavens opened outside after a few days hot weather. There was definitely rain on stage too, though in this case of the metaphorical variety. This was the rain in Spanish flamenco star Eva Yerbabuena’s heart.

Flamenco is viewed popularly as being all about colour, warmth and the sunny Spain remembered from foreign holidays. The first fifty minutes or so of “Lluvia” could not be more different. It begins with a sombre street scene featuring ten figures standing stock still outside a stone building. Save the gold hue of the huge wooden door, all is grey. All, that is, until the arrival via the audience of Yerbabuena in a striking red dress. As she threads her way through the crowd there is a sense that they are memories rather than real people.

Yerbabuena describes “Lluvia” as being born from melancholy and a chronicle of her private dancing self. There is plenty of that here. Throughout the opening half, there is anger in her footwork and a sense of despair in her movement. Her arms were especially striking: solid and strong one second, soft and flowing like water the next. The circling of her hands was glorious. Yes, there’s a lot of anguish. Yes, it’s very expressionistic. There’s a lot of gesture, most notably a repeated one of lying on the floor with one leg raised (repeated by the other dancers), but also plenty of Munch-like silent screams and slumping on a table. Sometimes, it’s a tad over the top and melodramatic, but it certainly has class and style, and is always effective.

Then, out of nowhere, a trunk appears, somewhat oddly containing a half-dressed man with a flower, and new costumes. Up go the lights, up goes the volume, but for me at least, down goes the intensity. It’s not quite party time, but it’s heading in that direction. Sunny Spain is back, it seems, for a while at least. There are solos for the other dancers, notably for the tall, lean and clearly extrovert Eduardo Guerrero. His whole body moved with amazing suppleness. One solo was especially eccentric. Limbs seemed to go in all different directions at great speed. You wondered how it was possible and yet keep such control. Of the others, I particularly enjoyed watching Mercedes de Córdoba, who showed great contrasts in tension.

Ballet Flamenco Eva Yerbabuena in 'Lluvia'. Photo courtesy NTCH

Ballet Flamenco Eva Yerbabuena in ‘Lluvia’.
Photo courtesy NTCH

The final half hour or so sees a return to grey in the sense that the setting is dark and smoky, redolent of a cellar bar. It’s here that we get to watch Yerbabuena on her own in a series of dances that come one after another, much like a gala. She’s in black, but red again provides a contrast, this time courtesy of a crimson shawl, held out to Yerbabuena by singer José Valencia, much like a matador would show a cape to a bull. She stared as if magnetised by it, advanced, then let him put it gently around her shoulders, before showing it off in an explosive dance like a peacock showing its plumage.

Even to the non-expert, Yerbabuena screams ‘class.’ Particularly in the closing dances she moved with force and passion, none more so that in the rich soleá that she dances towards the end of the evening. She screams defiance and passion. The thunder from her feet was easily a match for that going on outside.

“Lluvia” owes much too to its impressive singers and musicians, especially the powerful José Valencia.

What looked like a sell-out audience lapped up every minute of it. And why not? It was sheer class, and a great way to round off what has generally been a good Taiwan International Festival 2014.