I love that the Spanish have a word for “magic and charm” in duende. When I arrived in Barcelona in August with my children and my daughter’s fiancé, I didn’t realize that I wanted to experience duende until we arrived at the Tablao Flamenco Cordobes in La Ramba. I have learned over the last ten years that I prefer to have less of a plan when traveling than too much of one. So outside of tickets to see La Sagrada Familia, we didn’t have any other plans for our six days in Barcelona. When we were strolling through the Gothic Quarter, there was a street performer dancing flamenco and I realized that I needed to find tickets for a performance. I had seen Jose Greco II perform in the 1990’s but that was a completely different type of show than the Tablao Flamenco that we experienced in Barcelona.
The duende of Flamenco:
The Venue. When I saw Jose Greco II dance at Luther Burbank Center, it was a relatively large auditorium, the Tablao style of Flamenco is performed in an intimate setting. The Tablao itself is the floorboard on which all the musicians and dancers stand, with low ceilings and wicker chairs tightly packed into a cave like setting. It’s like being ensconced in the experience. The warmth and closeness draw all your senses into the performance. The stomping and clapping and snapping of fingers reverberate, captivating you. There weren’t more than eighty people in the audience on the night we saw Tablao Flamenco Cordobes. The venue held us as did the dance
Most dance and musical shows are well rehearsed. Tablao Flamenco is improvisational There was definitely an outline of who would perform: say one dancer, one singer and two guitarists but the rest was improvisation. The dancer would start to tap and the singer would start to clap to lead the dancer and then start singing which engaged the guitarist which inspired the dancer into striking a pose. It was poetry and dialogue and, as I said at the time, like improvisational jazz with stomping. It was intense to watch the performers sense the direction and build on the last movement or strum or pause and be in a constant state of creation. The improvisation drew us in.
There were three male singers throughout the performance. Sometimes there was one on the Tablao, sometimes all three. They sing in the form of Jondo. From the brochure, “Jondo is a lament, a scream, an outcry, a laughter based on poems or songs from Spanish literature, which the singer peels away through his own inspiration, with no script and no obligation other than the pace for kind of song being interpreted.” Throughout the show, I could feel the pain, the love, the sadness and the joy regardless of not understanding the words. The Jondo is and was felt deeply in that room.
There were two guitarists although they weren’t always on the Tablao and, sometimes, just the two guitarists were alone on the stage. I love Spanish guitar. I am mesmerized by the skill and dexterity it takes to play as it’s the only kind of music I have every tried to play on guitar. I loved the intricate fingerings, the improvisation between the two guitarists as they bantered back and forth, and the guitarists themselves stomping their feet and drumming on the guitar to a syncopated beat. The guitarists were mesmerizing.
There were two female and one male dancer. From my prior experience with Jose Greco II, I have only seen a male flamenco dancer, what a joy to see a combination of male and female energy and for the terrific costumes they all wore. The power of the male dancer and his lighting speed tapping, and his endless spinning were spellbinding. One woman dancer was so graceful in her arched back and her delicate yet intentional flourish of her hand as she fed off the singer’s lament. The other woman dancer came out in a classic long flamenco dress and I could not believe how she could even stomp (without tripping) but she was able to lift one leg, supporting the long dress train, and spin the dress flawlessly. The dancers dialogue with all the other performers was palpable and moved me deeply
The rhythm is the common denominator through the entire performance. The tapping, the clapping, the snapping of the fingers, the beat of rhythm of the guitar, the cry of the singer and the emotion of the dancer were felt deeply in my bones. The duende grabbed me and held me for the whole performance. I felt one with all those in the room and I’m glad I had this deep satisfying experience.