Dallas — Nothing like the driving rhythm of the bandoneón to warm up a tango enthusiast audience, and Mariano Dugatkin did just that, encouraging the audience at the Latino Cultural Center to snap our fingers to its syncopation. At Shades of Tango, presented by Evolution Tango, that was followed by Astor Piazzolla’s inimitable, energetic instrumental “Libertango,” performed with virtuosity by Dugatkin (bandoneón), Mark Landson (violin), and maestro and music director Eduardo Rojas (piano). It set the evening off to a high start.
Live musicians included Robert Furlong on guitar in several instances. Producers and artistic co-directors George and Jairelbhi Furlong (of the Dallas-based Evolution Tango) and Hugo Patyn and Celina Rotundo (Buenos Aires, Hugo Patyn Dance Academy and Celina Rotundo Skating Academy) made a respectful choice to begin the dance performance…without dancing. By doing so, they resisted the temptation of choreographing to this world-famous piece of music (usually staged as a closing selection) and instead allowed the music and the virtuosity of the musicians to set the tone by embodying the music through their instruments. Throughout the show, it was a pleasure to sense that dancers and musicians alike physically manifested the spirit of tango in their own way through their bodies.
The program was musically organized into two acts, with cohesive groupings of the four categories of tango: Nuevo Tango, Vals, Milonga, and Tango. Each grouping within the categories was set to a color scheme, thus the title of the show, Shades of Tango. During the first act, Nuevo Tango and Vals took center stage with Nuevo classics such as “Libertango,” “Código de Barra,” “Mil Pasos,” “Oblivión,” “Vuelvo al Sur,” and “Infiltrados.” The Nuevo or newer, more avant-garde pieces were costumed in shiny black with stark, white lighting alluding to the simplicity of modernist architecture. The costuming (Rotundo) paralleled the dancing with the first half dominated by futuristic black body suits to match the hard-driving Nuevo style.
The second grouping of the first act transitioned into its polar opposite—the softer, more traditional Vals, costumed in white, flowing ensembles to match heart-felt favorites such as “Desde el Alma,” “For de Lino,”” Palomita Blanca,” “Lo que Dejó la Marea” and a bandoneón solo.
After intermission a completely different visual aesthetic accompanied the Milonga section–with colorful, over the top dresses and head bows for the women and a hilarious touch of clowning for Patyn and George Furlong sporting outrageous wigs with Allen Arnold adding to the mix in “Mulatada.” The light-hearted skit spoofed the idea of lovely but reluctant ladies being pressured to dance with self- aggrandizing creeps. Rotundo, J. Furlong and the female cast’s facial expressions of distaste added fuel to this farcical number. The musical mix for this section included six favorite milongas: “Mulatada,” “Sanata,” “La Trampera,” “Milonga Cardinal,” “Milonga de mis Amores,” and “Bien Porteña.”
The last quarter of the show ended the performance with seven classic tangos: “Gallo ciego,” “Fueron Tres Años,” “Loca,” “Adiós Nonino,” “Comme il Faut,” “De Puro Guapo” and the traditional finale song “La Cumparsita.” In the concluding tango section, Rotundo and Jairelbhi Furlong’s shimmering sapphire blue dresses brought out the elegance of tango. For lovers of tango music, this overall line-up hits a classical all-line up of listening and dancing favorites.
The high caliber of the dancing and choreography matched that of the music. During the dancing solos, as with the group numbers, the entire stage came alive with fast walks that often pivoted into the opposite direction, lifts and drops, boleos, ganchos, and the entire repertoire of tango dance moves. The evening was evenly paced with masterful instrumental renderings by the live musicians, two solo pieces—the passionate Rojas on the piano and the subtle Dugatkin on the bandoneón, with dancing solos by each of the principal couples, Patyn and Rotundo, and the Furlongs, along with shared stage pieces by the two principal couples, in addition to group numbers with three other couples: Carlos Urrego and Maureen Muñoz (from New Orleans), Jennifer Wilson and Allen Arnold, and Martha and David Wells (the four later students of the Furlongs in Dallas).
Each of the principal couples worked harmoniously in the shared numbers, with an even balance of Rotundo’s forté of aerials and lifts (part of her skills as a figure skater), Patyn’s steady control of execution and lively sense of rhythm, with the Furlong’s technically strong performances that also included well-executed aerials and some challenging sustained, slow splits for J. Furlong. Fast and accurate footwork by both couples made for some amazing moments, not lost on the audience, who responded on various occasions with audible approval. Adding to the beauty of the performance was the evidently strong bond that unites each couple as married partners, parents and friends. Rotundo’s physical shape and stamina showed no traces of recently becoming a mother, and the joy of these couples’ love for tango permeated the entire show.
The supporting couples demonstrated various degrees of technical accomplishment, confidence and stage presence. For some it may have been their debut in a professional show, and a heel caught in a dress here and there snagged a moment or two, but overall, the evident effort that all put into hours of rehearsals paid off. They were on time, in unison with a palpable spirit de corps.
The lighting design by Sean Steward Stevens complemented the simple aesthetic of the stage design, which did without ornamentation. In this way, Shades of Tango can be characterized by its well-thought out simplicity of design, its cohesive musical and dance structure, and its masterful execution of musical and dance elements, a rare treat for North Texas audiences.
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Theater at the University of North Texas. She is a national steering committee member of the Latina/o Theater Commons, and an avid tango dancer with eleven years’ experience.