Tango and Buenos Aires. No other dance and place are so inextricably bound together.The dancing comes ready made with an ethos of empassioned embrace and combative resistence. Those sensibilities were on display for full houses at the Segerstrom Center this week with TANGO BUENOS AIRES: fuego y pasión. The company has a quarter century history with its touring programs. In their current incarnation they are a lean and vibrant company of ten dancers and a classic Piazzolla style quintet who offer the full measure of the essential tango atmosphere. Susana Rojo’s choreography wisely steers clear of the more extroverted versions of stage tango delivering something that looks more like real tango for real people but which still fires the dance floor with intricate movement and expressive partnering. The two act evening follows a lightly limned story line: two dancers, Demián Garcia and Cynthia Avila, are seen preparing for an evening on the town and soon find themselves at the local salon where they dance. Various personal dramas ensue which finally involve all of the five couples. The dancers all play themselves and in three instances are also long-time stage partners as well.
Ms. Rojo in collaboration with the dancers has put together a well shaped evening which touches on all the essential ingredients of tango and moves deftly among ensemble sections, solo sections and classic stand-alone duos. I liked the ensemble section Tango Negro which acknowledges the too often sidestepped African roots of 19th century tango. The original programming included the great Manzi candombe classic, Azabache, which was unfortunately replaced in the current production.
The production as a whole is spare and uses very minimal sets (often just tables and chairs) to create a sense of place. The costuming by Miguel Iglesias, Rosario Bauza, and Lucrecia Laurel was stylish without leaning too heavily on period caricature. Especially appealing were the individually styled slip-like costumes for the women in A Palermo and Tanguera (Act One) which referenced 1920s fashion. The lighting by Andres Mattiuada moved easily between darkened environments and an ever-changing palate of colors on the cyclorama backlighting the musician’s riser. The staging left ample room to accommodate the ensemble pieces and effectively placed the musicians in full view. That arrangement was particularly effective in the opening orchestral solo where the dancers are seated at tables with their backs to the audience and facing the orchestra. It brought to mind the lighting effects and tableaux from the Carlos Saura film, TANGO.
Most of the elements of the story line played well. While Damián García made a believable introspective statement out of his solo to begin Act Two, Cynthia Avila was less successful with letting us see her private world in the Act One solo, Preparense. The choreography here, which riffed too heavily on ballet, failed to help give us a real glimpse into her inner world. Also complicating the smooth flow of mostly realistic characterizations was Celos (Jealousy), which was musically overplayed and, with an abundance of ballroom styled lifts, seemed out of character.
Elegant and indispensable were the five musicians of the onstage quintet. Their playing was terrific, especially in the many Astor Piazzolla pieces in both acts. Bandoneonist, Martin Sued was particularly excellent with his gutsy, melancholic playing. The only misstep came in the Act Two, Tango Negro, where an overly loud recorded percussion track spoiled the appeal of the live music and the hoped for primitive atmosphere. The musical arrangements of contemporary pieces and classics such as El Choclo, Recuerdo, and Por Una Cabeza were by current music director, Emilio Kauderer. The musicians were Fernando Bruguera piano, Ismael Grossman guitar, Cesar Rago violin, and Andres Serafini bass.
At the heart of it all were the TANGO BUENOS AIRES company. In particular, Mauricio Celis lit up the stage in everything he was in. He is a dynamic partner and dancer who can also act. His virile presence was powerful in Zum (Piazzolla) and the men’s piece Todos Sacan (Kauderer) where the five men are recast as street toughs. Also excellent were Florencia Mendez and Pedro Zamin in their comedic piece La Luciérnaga where the problems of dancing with a loose-legged, gancho wielding tanguera become painfully evident. They return in the Augustin Bardi composition Gallo Ciego remade with serious and stylish demeanor. I can’t say enough for Mr. Celis’ dancing in the Pugliese compostion, Recuerdo. Teamed here with Inés Cuesta these two define the best that stage tango has to offer with beautiful lines, sure partnering and a handsome understated virtuosity. Demián García was also excellent throughout. His rapid fire traveling tango bourées in A Orlando Goñi were a delight. Also dancing in a tasteful tango liso were Maria Lujan Leopardi and Esteban Simon as the romantic couple in Nochero Soy. Leopardi was virtuosic in her lifts and airborne whipping ochos. The evening finished with a beautifully staged ensemble version of Verano Porteño (Piazzolla) and La Cumparsita, the new and the old together in a final comfortable union.
(TANGO BUENOS AIRES continues its national tour through March. Up next at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts is REFLECTIONS. The program, billed as a partnership with contemporary choreographers and BOLSHOI BALLET dancers, begins January 20th. The reviewed performance took place January 15, 2011 in Costa Mesa.)