Eva Yerbabuena, Sadler's Wells, London

Beautiful flamenco without the roughness
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The Independent Culture

Eva is no ordinary flamenco show and Eva Yerbabuena is no ordinary flamenco dancer. Some spectators might denounce her as an egotistical control-freak, whose coldness fully matches her adoptive name Yerbabuena – Spanish for "mint".

Eva is no ordinary flamenco show and Eva Yerbabuena is no ordinary flamenco dancer. Some spectators might denounce her as an egotistical control-freak, whose coldness fully matches her adoptive name Yerbabuena – Spanish for "mint".

She treats her five supporting dancers like an impersonal corps de ballet for her lengthy solos. And contrary to the traditional spirit of flamenco, she strips them of personality, regimenting them into rigid phalanxes. Even the dialogue between musicians and dancers disappears – the musicians relegated to backing group across the back of the stage and intermittently blotted into darkness by the fancy lighting schemes.

There is no warmth or spontaneity, you might say, which is true. The traditional forms are there – the soleá, the granaína, the tangos – but as performed by the ensemble dancers, they are choreographed to the millimetre, arranged into decorative group patterns and accompanied by elaborate entrances and exits. You might prefer something less formal than this closely integrated theatrical presentation. You might, like me, be particularly unconvinced by the conceit of a prologue and epilogue, featuring Yerbabuena striking slow poses alongside an old phonograph. The show that comes in between is actually her dream – a notion you have to take on trust – in which the dances express a woman's search for independence.

But Yerbabuena is undeniably impressive, austere in her long, stark, sombrely coloured dresses. Her movement is equally pared down, a modern simplicity that reaches to the heart of flamenco and makes it burn. Yet paradoxically, her dance also has richness. She moves with a remarkable, distinctive fluidity, curves and angles etched against the darkness like the lavish arabesques of Arabic script.

In her granaína solo, the ruffled train of her white dress becomes part of the choreography, now hitched up to frame her face, now clustered at her feet in foaming waves as her body arches like a ship's prow. In another solo, her feet patter in such tiny and even beats she might be travelling on ball bearings. Her arms are particularly beautiful, flashing up vertically like exclamation marks or rearing like snake's fangs. Her hands scoop the air in small eddies and follow a dance phrase as if printing quotations marks.

The other performers are stylish, from the thunderingly percussive group dancers to the three singers – desolate, broken voices that fade and surge, as if coming over radio waves. The musicians, led by Yerbabuena's guitarist husband Paco Jarana, offer seductive new strands of sound – sometimes jazzy, sometimes African – the result of Antonio Coronel's drum and washboard and Ignacio Vidaechea's saxophone and flute. So even if none of it matches holiday memories of flamenco in drunken cafes, it is just as valid. This is polished, highly constructed flamenco without the sweaty roughness or the encores – or the hangovers.

To 14 July (020-7863 8000)

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