After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tango Buenos Aires: The Spectacle

Before I left Los Angeles back in the day, I was the
dance critic for several local newspapers, a job I adored because of all the pairs of house center seats I got, and because I always knew my thoughtful reviews would actually be read by somebody.

Today I came across the following recent review of
Tango Buenos Aires by one of my favorite dance critics, Lewis Segal of the L.A. Times. I myself reviewed this show in 1999, and it was fun to compare the changes in the show after eight years.

Tango Buenos Aires
The company adds other dance forms to turn on the heat at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

By Lewis Segal, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

...Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, a new name appeared at the top of the company roster -- Rosario Bauza -- and a new agenda dominated the performance.

Like most touring tango companies, this one used to focus on isolated couples, with a few ensembles and instrumental interludes punctuating the plotless proceedings. No longer. Under Bauza's direction, the couples are often seen together in sequences depicting various Argentine hangouts -- a bar and a racetrack besides the inevitable dance hall...

Some of those opportunities range far from the traditional tango vocabulary -- especially the "El Opio" trio in which Federico Fleitas and Sebastian Huici compete for Mariella Morassut with ballet steps. That's right: pirouettes, air turns, the whole bravura arsenal.

The ballroom-style duets have also changed -- not always for the better -- with a heavy emphasis on gymnastic stunts: strenuous lifts that are often crudely unmusical and break the movement flow. Although they dance with admirable lightness and intricacy in Act 1, Cesar Peral and Soledad Buss go for broke after intermission, and their duet ends with him slinging her halfway across the floor.

The romance of tango vanishes at such moments, though a few dancers (Jorge Tagliaferro with Natalia Patyn, for instance) manage to make the lifts play like spasms of passion. Unfortunately, Rosas and Natoli frequently look more like athletes than lovers in their choreographed clinches.

The changes at Tango Buenos Aires reflect a desire by a number of world dance companies to re-evaluate, refocus or update their modes of presentation. Some return to their roots in folklore, trimming away the excesses of theatricalization. Others like this one head in the opposite direction, embracing the strategies of ballet, modern dance and show-dancing to please large audiences in big theaters.

Happily, the company's transition hasn't compromised some of its prime assets, notably the musicianship. Directed by Julian Vat, the band (piano, bass, guitar, violin and, of course, bandoneon) not only accompanies the dancing but also holds the stage on its own with alternately sharp and soulful playing, including a spectacular arrangement of "El Choclo."

Here's an excerpt from my 1999 review:

...The dancing in TANGO BUENOS AIRES is not traditional, but rather show dancing, or fantasy tango. There was an abundance of high kicks and jumps, and it all was choreographed, unlike the real thing found in tango salons in Buenos Aires.

The folk-themed finale was a very big finish by the spectacular tuxedo-clad Nestor, who spun gaucho bolo balls so fast and precise they appeared as arcs of solid color over his head as they lifted up his hair.

Afterwards, someone sniffed as he went out the door that this show was more about the music than the dance. Well, tango is the music. Without the music there would be no dance. And it was an evening of passionate, inspiring, and even creative music, thanks to Osvaldo Requena’s musical direction.

So we have even more proof here of the theatrical direction tango is going, at least stage tango. Hopefully no milonguero will be slinging his partner across the floor at Gricel anytime soon! Although now there are already tango classes in jumps and leaps; can flinging and sliding be far behind?

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