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Eva Yerbabuena is one of the world's foremost flamenco dancers. (Photo by Daniel Pérez)

Flamenco dance icon Eva Yerbabuena brings acclaimed “Ay!” to the Rialto Theatre

Since her initial flamenco class at the age of 11, Eva Yerbabuena has become a trailblazer for flamenco artists worldwide, often pushing boundaries between the traditional and the contemporary. Her speed, power and dramatic footwork can take the audience by storm. This, combined with her willingness to expose her innermost emotions through movement, creates a style that is nearly impossible to imitate.

Yerbabuena is the founder and choreographer of Eva Yerbabuena Flamenco Company, which will perform the explosive production Ay! February 24 at the Rialto Center for the Arts. She was born in Germany, but grew up in Spain and is considered one of the premiere flamenco dancers in the world.

In an exclusive interview with ArtsATL, Yerbabuena reveals the inspiration of Ay! and how she is pushing the boundaries of traditional flamenco dance.

ArtsATL: Your style is known internationally because you challenge the notion of traditional flamenco expression. Did you ever receive pushback from audiences that expected to see something more traditional versus your interpretation of the dance?

Eva Yerbabuena: Yes and no. I have received critiques stating that my work is “too new” or “too contemporary,” but my intention is not to imitate something that is already created. And I don’t intend to forget my roots, which is traditional flamenco, either. Throughout the development of my career, I wanted to continue finding myself through dance. Starting my company was a way to evolve as an artist and to fully express myself through flamenco.

Yerbaubuena says the piece was inspired by her motherhood. (Photo by Hirohisa Aoyagi)

ArtsATL: What was your introduction to flamenco?

Yerbabuena: I began dancing flamenco to fulfill the dream of a loved one. I do not wish to reveal her identity, but she was very important to me, so I granted her wish and began dancing at eleven years old. However, I saw my first professional flamenco production about a year later and fell in love. The passion and marriage of chant and rhythm seemed like an emblem for raw emotion to me. It was deep and vulnerable. That’s when I decided to dig deeper into my understanding of flamenco and really discover my voice as an artist.

ArtsATL: The style of movement you present is very unique to flamenco. What inspires the creation of such particular expressions?

Yerbabuena: Being personal. We are all unique, and I want to express that individuality in the most personal, intimate way possible.

ArtsATL: In a few weeks, Atlanta audiences will get to witness Ay! for the first time. What is the production about?

Yerbabuena: It’s about the before and after. When I became pregnant, I wanted to unplug to fully enjoy my pregnancy. I didn’t go back to my dance routine until 13 months later — about four months after I gave birth. Upon my return, I felt like I needed something organic, something to share through movement and music. It was in the process of returning to flamenco that I began to create something profound.

There is a saying in Spanish, similar to America’s “eleventh hour,” “hora y viente.” It means life begins where the limits end. This production is my “eleventh hour” because it depicts the cusp of my life immediately before and after motherhood in a very intimate manner.

ArtsATL: Why did you choose Ay! as the title of this performance?

Yerbabuena: “Ay!” is a very Spanish thing to say for any occasion, especially in Andalucía. It’s used in laughter or when you yearn for something. It is like a sigh or a very nostalgic expression.

ArtsATL: Is there anything you hope Atlanta’s audiences will take away from viewing your show?

Yerbabuena: I don’t want the audience to try to understand but rather feel. Flamenco is about feeling, and I hope that my production provokes something that impacts the audience’s before Ay! and after Ay! My desire for Atlanta is that the audience becomes addicted to flamenco and that they return for more performances in the future.

Vanessa Alamo’s interview with Eva Yerbabuena was originally conducted in Spanish. For the Spanish version, please click here.