Tango shows haven’t changed much in the thirty five years they have been around. Sometimes leaning on historical contexts, characters in a loose story, or a nostalgic look at evocatively costumed Porteño dance styles, the programs all face the same dilemma: how to dress up a social dance as a full-fledged concert dance experience. Tango Buenos Aires’ latest incarnation, “The Song of Eva Perón” with a libretto by Lucrecia Laurel, takes the historical route with a thin narrative of the iconic Evita that never really gives flight to her outsized character or makes meaningful links between the dancing and her political and social mythology. Choreographed by veteran tanguero Hector Falcón, the program leaned on versions of glammed up tango, some special effects (an extended improvised section with the company’s men using boleadoras as percussion instruments closes Act I), and a top flight tango quintet led by pianist and composer Fernando Marzán.
The last “Tango Buenos Aires” program at Segerstrom Center for the Arts (“Tango Fuego y Pasión”) was as taut and understated as this program was sprawling and indulgent. “The Song of Eva Perón” proved best when it stuck to the basics of clean unison dancing for multiple couples and focused solos for a single couple that avoided aerial excesses. Mr. Falcón with Paula Arias brought the more traditional moments to life with charismatic dancing that reminded you of gutsy old school tango dancing from Copes and his contemporaries. At the other end of the spectrum was the extroverted, athletic dancing from Eliana De Bartolis and Hector Fernandez which felt out of place for a period essay of ‘40s tango style. They danced two spectacular high-flying tangos, one in each act.
Anchoring the music was Mr. Marzán, an exceptional pianist, and a band which included bandoneonists Marco Antonio Fernandez and Emiliano Guerrero, violinist Mayumi Urgino, and Roberto Santocono on bass. The music (mixed on stage) was overly heavy on the bass and piano often leaving the bandoneon and especially the violin distant. Anodyne singing from Lucia Alonso made only faint impressions for the solo vocal sections. She was also a dancer in the ensemble sections and a stand in for Evita, but her mawkish delivery gave us little reason to believe in the Perón myth. Astor Piazzolla’s evocative music has rightly been a part of any good tango program. Of the four Piazzolla works for this show only one, “Triunfal”, set as an orchestral solo dates from the Perón era. Military themes dominated much of Act II with music by Mariano Mores (“Taquito Militar”), Augustín Bardi, and a men only ensemble piece set to the vintage tango “El Choclo”.
The program was presented at the Segerstrom Concert Hall which left the company exposed without the usual enhancements of a theatrical setting and lighting effects. For tango shows which inevitably hang their collective fedoras on the ready icons of the tango genre, “Song of Eva Perón” seemed only to strike a glancing blow at its intended target. With a sharper focus it might have delivered more.
(The accompanying photo is from an earlier “Tango Buenos Aires” show. Photos for “Song of Eva Peron” were not available for the Segerstrom performances.)