Duende: Now I get it

I just filed a review of Piano Abierto, the highlight of the 11th annual Flamenco Arts Festival in Santa Barbara. Wow. As I said in the review, I didn’t totally get flamenco until I saw this performance. Saw isn’t even the right word. I experienced it–it being el duende–the hard to define quality flamenco artists are supposed to feel and transmit to the audience. When I interviewed the show’s composer David Peña Dorantes, I asked him to define duende. You can read his response in my preview of the show.

Rosario Toledo

Still, reading someone else’s description of duende is about as much like experiencing it as reading a description of sex is like actually making love; not very. Speaking of making love, that’s the analogy I used for the way Dorantes stroked and caressed the keys. More than orgiastic, which I always find a somehow reductive description, I’d call the dialogue between the performers in Piano Abierto ecstatic. It was ecstasy that made Rosario Toledo open her mouth and let out little cries as she danced, ecstasy that made the bassist beam and the audience shout and Joaquín Grilo, one of Spain’s superstar flamenco dancers, ham it up like a Spanish Grace Kelly and shake his booty like Shakira. I went in thinking “I’m not really a flamenco person.” I left thinking, “Ah: so that’s duende.”

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