"Si el duende existe..."
Last night, we went to the theatre! To one of Granada’s main auditoria, Teatro Isabel la Católica, to be exact.
The start of December sees a week-long festival of all that is best about Flamenco, the dance form that is so synonymous with the Bohemian history of Spain; a physical and musical expression of passion that runs so deep within the blood of the Spanish that the two are inextricably intertwined.
Andrew and I love Flamenco, and have seen variations both here in Spain and in the UK, from the spontaneous outbursts in Seville, reputed to be the birthplace of Flamenco, conceived in the Gypsy heartland of the Triana district, to the more formal surroundings of Sadlers Wells Theatre in the heartland of Islington, London, slightly less Bohemian.
This year marks the XVII Encuentros Flamencos in Granada, and a selection of the top artists in cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance), jaleo (vocalizations), palmas (handclapping) and pitos (finger snapping) take part, providing both modern and classical interpretations of the art form.
Last night, we booked to see Manuel Moreno Maya “El Pele” and La Moneta.
“Si el duende existe, siempre aparece cuando La Moneta y el Pele están en un scenario.”
I should perhaps try and explain what ‘duende’ means in English, which is no easy task! In its simplest terms, tener duende (to have duende) means to be full of emotion, passion, expression and authenticity, and it is this duende that audiences come to appreciate. So, from the publicity tag line above, we knew that we were to expect a fair bit of the old duende whilst watching El Pele and La Moneta do their thing.
We had no idea what to expect from the Spanish theatre, and we were both excited at the prospect of a ‘night out’. Concert performances, such as this one, don’t start until 9:30 in the evening, based on the assumption, I presume, that audiences will go out and dine afterwards. The theatre filled up pretty quickly, although I am not sure it was a sell-out, and the audience members were hugely diverse: old and young, families, couples, friends. I remember that when we went to see the Flamenco festival at Sadlers Wells, the audience was made up almost entirely of well-heeled older people and gay men! I have no idea what we were doing there!
The atmosphere in the auditorium is relaxed; people are here to have a good time. Intercom announcements to turn off mobile phones seems to be largely ignored. Stage lighting is slightly clunky, but it’s probably difficult to plot every move on stage with performers who, by their very nature, are spontaneous and make up their script as they go along.
The show started. El Pele has an incredible voice - the wailing sounds, so typical of Flamenco singing, fall somewhere between traditional folk and an almost arabic call-to-prayer. To say that this performance was full of duende is possibly an understatement, and frequent cries of ‘Olé’ from the audience signified that they were getting their fix.
La Moneta was, we both agreed, the best Flamenco dancer we had seen. She moved from stolid, animal-like aggression to submissive elegance with total ease, and whenever she was on stage, I was transfixed. In the calmer scenes, her hand and finger movements were extraordinary, and the singer and dancer frequently interacted with very intimate and hugely expressive results.
The compás, or rhythm, is constantly marked out by the clappers and the guitarist, and the ensemble work together as one. The guitarist had a solo spot, and whenever we have seen or heard a Spanish Flamenco guitarist, we always marvel at the incredibly complex sounds that can be created, and the speed with which fingers can flit across strings.
At the end of the programme, the audience demanded more and got another very spontaneous round of song, staccato rhythm and dance and the audience were on their feet in appreciation. Rarely would I say that performances are worthy, really worthy, of a standing ovation, but I do think that Andrew and I were both hugely impressed by this show, and were certainly picked up and carried along by the sheer passion demonstrated by performers and audience alike.
"El Pele y La Moneta. La Moneta y el Pele. No hay nada más que decir."
Well, actually, more does need to be said, as we did go out for something to eat and drink after the show, along with the entire population of Granada and surrounding villages. We’re beginning to get into the swing of the Spanish timetable….I think. We managed to fraternise with Los Reyes Magos, who just happened to be waiting for us outside the theatre. Oh, and we certainly felt the duende. Mind you, that could have had something to do with the sherry and vino blanco we consumed before the show. Duende/Dutch Courage - you decide.