Date: November 12, 2011
Venue: TheaterLa (NY)
Dance review by Sarah Rayani
As performers, we all hope to communicate something through our art, to our audience. I find, that sometimes we get so engrossed in the actual technicality of a song or dance, that we forget about this communication with the audience. The philosophy of Duende, a word and idea conceptualiser in Spain and tied closely to Flamenco, places this communication of intense emotion over any other aspect of performance. Although one could easily spend years studying what Duende is, what it means and how to capture it, my cliff notes understanding is this: Duende is the emotion that a performer makes the audience feel – which is so new, intense and deep for both, that it moves the audience to a place of discomfort. Duende is a dark force of the Earth that borders on death and evil, and overtakes the performer involved.
Although I had never seen the dance form of Duende before, I find the philosophy fascinating and important for all artists to ponder. After all, if we don’t leave our audience moved to a new place, what have we really given them? Federico García Lorca wrote an essay about Duende called “A Poet in New York and Theory of Duende.” Lorca! Duende, by Carolina Fonseca is a physical manifestation of Lorca’s explanation of Duende. Find the essay here.
Carolina grew up an acrobat and rhythms gymnast in Lisbon. She went on to study traditional Flamenco, and has been teaching Danza Duende since 2000. She has an amazingly original style of dance that blends Romani Gypsy dance, Flamenco, Indian and Eastern dances. Fonseca has travelled the world and danced with people in many countries compiling her research. Read her full biography here.
The performance began in an all white room, on an all white stage, with only some blood red curtains. As we entered the room, a barefoot woman in a long black robe, Fonseca, was spinning. This spinning continued for almost 10 minutes. As a dancer, I can tell you that yes, it is as hard as it looks to maintain a spin for an extended period of time! As we settled in to our seats, we realised that as she was spinning she was going through a whirlwind of feelings. At times she looked as though she were crying with her hands on her face, at others she was silently screaming, mouth agape. Deep, dark emotions were all captured and shown to us one after the other, as if telling a story.
In the program we learn that this whole first section of the dance is “The birth of Christ” As the performance continued, we were introduced to the only other character in the performance, a woman dressed all in black, with a mask on the back of her head, Michaela Lund, who recited Lorca’s words at opportune moments to us. In my mind, this character represented death, and Fonseca, the artist fighting against the power of death. This continuation of part 1 of the performance was titled “Jewish Cemetary” and “Crucifixion.” Lund recited Lorca’s words “everything that has dark sound has Duende… Dance in the Cemetery, in blood .”
Fonseca used music from all the parts of the world where she draws her influence from in the performance. The music weaves seamlessly from country to country, with the dance tying it all together. It struck me how many similar movements there are between Flamenco, Indian dance and Romani Gypsy dance. At times I would try to decide, is this still Flamenco, or have we moved to Budapest? Or, is this Indian music, or Romani? Sosala’s own Sinan Gundogdu joined the two performers on stage with beautiful flamenco guitar accompaniment, increasing the drama and tension on stage.
Part two of the performance is described in the program as “Newburgh. Little Girl drowned in the well. Love and missing poems. Ode to Walt Whitman dance.” As your lowly reporter, I must admit, much of the meaning and connection between these words and what I saw and experienced, went over my head. But, it was powerful and emotional stuff, and I experienced Carolina Fonseca’s physical description of death, sadness and grief, without ever looking at the program.
My favourite part of the performance was when Carolina rolled onto the stage in a long white night robe, apparently having a nightmare, writhing around on the ground unhappily. This part was titled “Spain and Death.” My interpretation of this dance was that our main Character was dying. After a brief interaction with Lund’s black cloaked character, who I assumed to be death, our main character, Fonseca dies. However, the dance is only beginning there. As the program explains, “Everywhere else death is an end, not in Spain, death is a spectacle..”
After the death, her nightgown transforms into an elegant flamenco dress. Then came beautifully choreographed flamenco and Gypsy pieces, which seemed to tell stories from life, reenacted after death. Much of the performance up to this point, was slow and purposeful movement, but here we were able to really see the beauty and scope of Fonseca’s immense dance talent. The movements were smooth, fluid and yet so full of emotion and drama. Now, with shoes on, we heard the stomp of a flamenco step and as Gundogdu’s saz (or the bağlama which is a Turkish stringed musical instrument shared by various cultures in the Eastern Mediterranean, Near East, and Central Asia). strumming began to crescendo, so too did Fonseca’s movements, at one point she was up on top of a table, and the feeling in the room rose up equally. We felt it, right there. Fonseca manifested Duende, and gave it to us. I can’t really explain it, but I felt it, and I think, that’s the point.
After the show, she danced Duende with some of her students who were in the room, she smiled, accepted flowers and praise, and everything became very normal and happy. After all that drama and emotion, we were reminded that she is, at the end of the day, a performer, that is was all a show, not real life. The true testament is, that she completed her mission; we felt Duende, and we were changed.