Duende. (n) the mysterious power of art to deeply move a person.
Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday had it. So did Frida Kahlo and Van Gogh.
Duende is an enigmatic Spanish word which literally means elf or spirit. But when used in relation to flamenco, it’s all about the dancer’s ability to convey strong emotion to the audience. Be it pleasure or pain.
Purists might argue that flamenco is the only art form that can transmit duende. For flamenco requires the performer to bare their soul; to dig deep into their own life experience and then expose it for the whole world to see. Inner thoughts as outer thoughts, if you like. The stuff we normally keep hidden for fear of alienating (even losing) friends/family/boss is set free.
If flamenco has perfect technique but no feeling then aficionados would consider it to have failed.
I would argue that any artistic pursuit that moves us – whether it’s art, music, film, poetry, prose, or indeed dance – should qualify for a duende rating. So Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait with her pet monkeys (she longed for children, but couldn’t have them) and Francis Bacon’s triptych of his dead lover, George Dyer, have duende in my opinion because they move me to tears.
The ability to make an emotional connection with the audience is almost as mysterious as the word duende itself. Why do some people achieve it while others fail?
What sends shivers down your spine? What has duende for you?