The crowd roars its approval as the matador performs in an apparently suicidal manner. His suit of lights is covered with blood. He spends more time in the air than on his feet. His eyes are wild, his movements are exaggerated, his impression one of fantastic bravery.
He is a tremendista.
Possibly, he’s an ambitious kid. Anxious to please, but lacking experience and knowledge, he works in a flippant, fate-to-the-winds style.
He can be forgiven.
Or, perhaps he’s an experienced matador who has been badly punished by the bulls and the crowds. Now, in the twilight of a mediocre career, his mind haunted by painful memories, his body traced by scars, he plunges into his work with reckless abandon, praying that the adrenaline will overcome his intense fear.
He, too, can be forgiven.
But, in far too many cases, he’s a torero devoid of respect for artistic principles. Although he may be capable of honest interpretation, he prefers to seek instant approval through the far easier, far more spectacular, and far less dangerous, crowd-pleasing antics of tre-mendismo.
He is a fraud who can never be tolerated, much less forgiven.
True bravery need not be proclaimed. It’s a quiet, deliberate, dignified, and very personal thing. It’s the discipline of integrity that inspires a torero to attempt, under difficult circumstances, to persevere when others would surrender, to enter honestly with the sword, and to never belittle either the martyrdom of Toro Bravo or the deadly seriousness of the drama.
“It’s easy to go out and look brave in front of a bull,” observed retired Matador Juanito Silveti. “But, it’s quite another, much more difficult thing to go out and truly be brave.”
Or, as the author of “The Swords of Spain” put it, “A beautiful bullfight is never scary, and a scary bullfight is seldom beautiful”.
However, one must not confuse tremendismo and showmanship. The latter is a desirable, even essential element, while the former is pure dupery.
La Fiesta is a stylized ritual which, within certain parameters, is elastic enough to allow the emergence of individual personality. But, the three precepts parar, man-dar and templar must always prevail. Within the context of those precepts, a proper amount of showmanship is welcome, indeed necessary. But, such must be incorporated as an exclamation point, punctuating a treatise of artistry. Only then is it acceptable.
When tremendismo is used as the entire taurine essay, when it deceives the crowd and suffocates the performance, it becomes a parody of the drama. It is to real toreo as graffiti is to poetry. It de-emphasizes the tragedy of Toro’s sacrifice and threatens the honor and dignity of La Fiesta.
After all, tauromaquia is not supposed to be a sport or contest, but rather a play, a deadly drama in which Toro and Torero become purposely involved in an intimate dance, in which their unique personalities and identifications are melded within the swirling illusion of geometric precision and exhausting emotion.
Toro must become the confidant of Torero. Toro must be dominated, but not exploited. Toro must be encouraged to become a partner, but not an adversary. The danger that Toro presents must be glorified, but never emasculated.
When a truly brave bull and a truly talented and honorable torero meet, the sands of the plaza become a confessional, in which truth is naked and bold. And, Toro’s death becomes a penance, to be celebrated as the tragic, but essential culmination of the life drama.
But, when a matador ignores the meaning of the play, when he projects the image of the ham, the tourist-pleasing con man, he cannot assume the role of a prince, only that of a court jester. For such an ignoble peasant to assume the Power of Death is to denigrate the tragedy into a farce and the plaza de toros into a noisy, outdoor brothel. And, those who applaud such fraudulent performances do not deserve the title of aficionados. They are nothing more than voyeurs, lasciviously witnessing and encouraging the rape of art.
The ability to distinguish between showmanship and tremendismo is that which separates the real aficionado from the common bullfight fan.