Duende: What is it?
So many explanations have been offered about the mysterious element “Duende” and what it is. Is it some magical mode of being achieved in the process of performing flamenco? Can it be called up at will?
I wish to add my voice to the many interpretations of this word. The Spanish language dictionary gives a definition as ghost, fairy, elf, goblin, etc, No reference to flamenco at all. A further definition it offers is “something that turns up unexpectedly.”
I have written at length of my own beginnings in this artistic expression, therefore I don’t want to become redundant.
When I began study in this dance form I never heard the word flamenco. I was taking classes in Spanish dancing with Michael Brigante, an Italian-American who had a marvelous body placement and excellent castanet technique. This along with ballet classes was how I spent my first two and one half years learning Pasodobles, Jota, Bolero, Sevillanas and a number of stylized dances to Spanish music by composers such as Falla, Albeniz, Turina, Valverde, and others. The accompanist was a pianist. I left Brigante after this initial experience in the art.
My next teacher Jose Fernandez, concentrated his classes on the theater dances with superb castanet technique scored to the music as an instrument. We had only written piano music to dance to. Actually, I was given this instruction free of charge. This came about through my friendship with Janet Riesenfeld who introduced me to Fernandez. He was interested in me as a potential dance partner. This never developed as I have explained in other posts. I spent several months with Fernandez and then enrolled in classes with Carmelita Maracci, a wonderful artist in ballet and her own distinctive style of Spanish forms. She too was marvelous with the castanets. It was while working with her for a certain time that I first heard the word “flamenco” There was no guitarist, only a pianist. Later in the early 1950’s I studied in Spain under El Estampio, ( Juan Sanchez) in addition with Regla Ortega, and Antonio Marin. ( teacher of Eduardo Serrano, (El Guito). As I have written in other posts, I took classes with Alberto Lorca and the Pericets, and I studied the Muiniera with a specialist. In all that period, no mention of “Duende”
So it went. I first began to dance with guitar on tour in the 1940’s. From that time on, I performed several flamenco dances along with the expected theater pieces and the inclusion of regional dances from other provinces of Spain. An aficionado once published a tribute to me in a Santa Barbara newspaper as discovering an “exaltation” in my dance. It might have been another version of this special feeling.
During the number of months I danced at the famous tablao in Paris known as “Le Catalan”, I was told by one of the flamenco cantaores that I had the Duende while dancing in the Bar below. ” Inesita, tu tienes el Duende abajo” Perhaps the intimacy and special environment of the room where I performed on a table created the Duende in me. Difficult to say. In my view, the spirit surged in that small space and invoked a special mental and emotional feeling which took over.
I think Duende is being totally focused on the dance and music plus concentration and complete control of the material. It is notable that in the other forms of Spanish dancing such as the regional, the Escuela Bolera and stylized dances Duende is not mentioned. Contrary to what is generally regarded as “self-expression” in any art, I believe the dancer disappears into the work to reveal another entity.
While I was in New York concertizing in solo programs a critic from Dance Magazine wrote that “the soul of Spain had invaded the body of Inesita and she was dancing to set it free” Duende? Who knows?
Perhaps I was drawing on some reserve of energy after a long program and the concentration was intense. Another critic in London declared that I had no trouble summoning up the Duende. A lovely compliment and a way of praising my work which was much appreciated ! Most of the time, I soldier along hoping that the audience feels what I am trying to convey. So there you have it.
I leave to others to ponder the meaning of this inexplicable state of being.