Everything I know about Flamenco, and that is precious little, I learned from watching Jose Greco on television many, many years ago. With the rare exception of a flamenco-based Carmen, perhaps, my education was rudimentary, to say the very least. But that was before I met a woman and her remarkable company of dancers and musicians at Jacob's Pillow: Eva Yerbabuena and her Ballet Flamenco powered their way onto the Ted Shawn Theatre stage last night and remained there for a brief run. If you ever get the opportunity, yourselves a serious service and make the effort to see them.
The evening, 90 intermissionless minutes in length, comprises gorgeous guitar and percussion, throaty folk singers who sound as old as the history that informs their music (and part of the evening's joy is to see how young they are), and four dancers of exceptional physical strength. Of these four, Ms. Yerbabuena is one and she is also the focal point of the evening.
My early television memories of Greco's company conjure women in flashy satin and taffeta, ruffles and mantillas adorning heads and toes. The men wore corseted shirts, vests and jackets, flared their nostrils a lot and pounded the floor in their distinctive boots. A lot of castanet action, too. Whether or not this memory is accurate, I can only guess. But what I can say without any hesitation, is that time has been very kind, and Yerbabuena very wise in drawing us into her world and her own powerful memories -- the images are always human, never over-decorated or permitted to approach parody or stereotype. If it is fair to say that we can too easily make wrong assumptions about others' cultures, then it is both fair and required to say that cultural bodies like Jacob's Pillow serve an essential educational function by bringing disparate worlds together. In the process, we celebrate the wonder of all we never knew we hungered for.
As for the evening itself, the rhythms of hands clapping, fingers snapping, percussive drumbeats swelling and feet a-flying generated tumultuous responses over and over again. Yerbabuena has a keen eye for staging a story and, even more, a shrewd knowledge of avoiding the obvious. On more than one occasion, a solo or trio moved inexorably to a fiery climax and stopped mid-air with a slow movement of an arm or an abbreviated head toss, thus reversing the action of the dance and recapturing the energy of the audience.
Eager to show herself off in this Pillow premiere performance, Ms. Y is clearly generous beyond her own ego. The corps members -- Luis Miguel Gonzalez, Eduardo Guerrero and Mercedes de Cordoba -- work wonderfully well together and, by the evening's final curtain, have had many opportunities to demonstrate their considerable individual talents. In the process, we have come to understand that Flamenco is about passion and deeply human interaction. And we have also come to learn that, as in other art forms, change never ceases and contemporary thought informs historical legacy.
Any discussion of the evening, entitled EVA, must include a reference to the remarkable scene in which Ms. Yerbabuena and her white dress engage in a pas de deux, for it is nothing less than a paired moment. Going well beyond mere technical facility -- and the mastery of dancer over costume should be its own reward -- she mesmerizes us and draws us into a passionately hypnotic spell. She teases and provokes and flourishes and flirts and, finally, enchants. Arrogance is transformed into vulnerability and, in the process, we are drawn to her spirit.
It is moments like this, and the evening is a series of such moments, that are capable of driving an audience to a frenzy.