Visiting the Duende

That ineffable spirit, appearing at inconsistent times and taking the soul captive: the Duende. A strange conceptual goblin, Lorca describes as lurking in death’s shadow. It is also a moment, however brief, of fiery mystery, a moment that ruptures and splits the artistic form, revealing a glimmering shadow.

Through descriptions of the Duende I am reminded of the Japanese Noh, it shares the same ineffable quality that defies explanation, but increases a kind of intrinsic speculation. Where does the experience lie? Is it the exchange that is occurring? Perhaps exchange is the wrong word. The experience is too ethereal for such a term. The Duende, as with Noh has an otherworldly quality to it, and its unusual qualities are firmly rooted in a mysterious communion, both require witnessing.

On the surface the differences are manifest; the Duende is a moment where a performance is elevated above the sum of its parts, possessed by an invisible force that draws in those witnessing it. It is synonymous with passion, loss of control, a frantic possession that demands immediate and unyielding response. The theatre of Noh is drawn out and measured, each movement and sound painstakingly constructed over generations, with very little change. The performance disguises and subverts its human elements, so they become the merest whisper.

I suppose it is the journey that is conjured beneath the surface of these moments that overlap; the core experience of this shared mystery. The journey demands an almost hypnotic engagement with its subject, an immediate and unflinching response. When witnessing the Noh, we can feel the slow and irresistible pull of a vacuum. There is no escape. Similar to the pull of a typhoon, a mechanism draws us inevitably to its liminal eye, that strange scintillating hollow carved out from the environment that surrounds it. It is perhaps an overwhelming, painful humanity that we are witnessing, an accidental rhythm that by temporarily aligning itself with our bodies and minds, demands that we fill its void with ourselves. It throws up a mirror, asking that we inhabit it with our image, and as nature abhors a vacuum, we cannot tolerate the absence of a reflection, we are called to immediate, unflinching action: fight or flight.

I consider the Duende existing here in a communal moment, not outside, not singular, but within a web of experience that sits on the edge of taboo. It cannot be seen alone, only through collective action. It is when this collective action, through a series of small miracles, reaches a point where it folds in upon itself, boundaries are blurred, and a circular overlap is reached. We are not seeing a performer, or indeed a performance anymore. We are inside an increasingly subtle lens that jars us from our everyday experiences, the narrowing concentric circles navigate us toward an inevitable core: the exquisite numinous face of ourselves, only seen fleetingly, shaking us to the core.