By: Hal de Becker
The Argentine dance and music extravaganza, Forever Tango, was a resounding success at The Smith Center recently. The performance generated a level of excitement that was evidenced by cheers, bravos and standing ovations from the opening night audience.
Unlike classical ballet, which developed at the aristocratic courts of Europe, tango evolved in the 19th century slum brothels of Argentina where mostly working-class men would pass their waiting time drinking and improvising dances with each other. Since then, tango music and dance, whether earthy or elegant, have achieved worldwide popularity on the stage and in the ballroom.
The company’s ladies in shimmering skin tight gowns slit up the thigh were all beautiful and its men in black suits and ties, hats tilted rakishly to one side were handsome.
At times they would cover the stage with wide sinewy steps and knees deeply bent, or travel at breathtaking speed across it with barely perceptible foot movements.
In addition to tango some of the dancers possess ballet, jazz and modern dance credits that include the Alvin Ailey, Julio Bocca and Merce Cunningham troupes and TV’s Dancing with the Stars. They drew upon those influences to add innovative feats and moves to their duets which, according to the program notes, were choreographed by the dancers themselves.
However, the performances of the dancers whose professional backgrounds were exclusively in Argentine tango were often more nuanced, stylish and authentic. Their typical tango moves, gestures and poses exuded a special spirit of sensuality and virility.
The curtain opened onto a darkened stage with nothing visible except a lone bandoneon player. Soon a man and woman emerged from opposite sides and engaged in a lyrical, almost balletic tango. Suddenly the stage burst into light revealing nine musicians on elevated platforms.
Included were bandoneons similar to small accordions, strings and piano. Especially impressive were virtuoso pianist Jorge Vernieri and master cellist and creator/director of Forever Tango, Luis Bravo. The orchestra’s lush symphonic arrangements of Argentine music and song evoked impressions of Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzola.
For me, the show’s best ensemble sequence was “El Suburbio” which captured traditional elements of tango, including male chauvinism and women’s acceptance of it. (Perhaps to offset the emphasis on male dominance many other numbers in the program had the male dancer kneeling in loving homage to his female partner.)
It was set in a seamy bordello where young women took turns dancing with a man until he made his choice. But when another customer desired the same girl a violent fight erupted between the two men. Their struggle was transformed into a compelling dance duet with imaginative choreography that used a wide range of tango moves including the familiar crossing and interlacing of legs.
Much of the dance was portrayed with dramatic pantomime that displayed the outstanding acting talents of the 12 performers. I wish there had been additional story concepts choreographed into the production. The repetition of couple after couple in abstract duets tended to become tedious.
Although some tango purists might, understandably, object to the inclusion of acrobatic lifts, turns and other flashy non-traditional moves in some of the numbers, Forever Tango is undeniably a terrific show that has been thrilling audiences in concert halls and showrooms for many years. Hopefully it will continue to do so, if not forever, at least for many years to come.
Special note: TMC presents the Alvin Ailey dance company March 22nd and 23rd. Theater goers shouldn’t miss it!