Dallas — Fierce, driven, dangerous and fueled by music of ever-growing intensity—this it was the tango as performed by the Argentine-based Estampas Porteñas at Dallas City Performance Hall Friday, Oct. 28, presented by TITAS.
Ever since the drop-dead glamor of Tango Argentina took the country by storm in the mid ’80s (and making an appearing in Dallas in 1986), other companies have sprung up with slightly different imperatives. There was Forever Tango, intense and explosive, the flamboyant Tango Buenos Aires and the sizzling Tango! Tango! They all begin with a brief picture of tango’s emergence from the slums of Buenos Aires more than 100 years ago, but only Estampas Porteñas turns tango into a theatrical drama with the action taking place sometimes between the 1930s and 1940s.
What makes Deseos…Stories of Longing and Desire unique, however, is not the story but the dramatic projections that transform from a train station to the milonga in an urban barrio, to an outdoor plaza, to a high-class brothel, a ballroom and docks.
The tame beginning offers not a hint of glamor—women in short white stocky dresses, men in brown pants and suspenders as they move in large groups. When they are not dancing, it’s the visual effects that pull the story along. In one scene, for example, our heroine Margot stands motionless in her high-ceiling bedroom, which rotates in front of our eye. Later, the train that takes her from the countryside into the city bears down on us in a starry night and, alighting at the station, disgorges huge puffs of smoke.
These visual effect all quite stunning, more dramatic than any movie. It makes the dancing sometimes seem at an outer remove. But splendid dancing there is, exploding like firecrackers, whipped into a frenzy by a powerful orchestra of violin, piano, bass, cello and bandoneón.
Margot’s regal manner and expensive clothes attracts a mysterious man who sells her off to a brothel. Wearing the flimsiest of garments, she is terrified as hoodlums maul and grope her. All along, her lover Charlo has been searching for her everywhere, and in the midst of a fight Margot flees and Charlo is left still stymied.
At last they reunite, and from them on pure dance and music dominate the rest of the program. Tempi switches from dreamlike slowness to lightning speed as each duet takes its own form. One woman is hoisted high while another slides to the ground, one leg stretches out and her body is plastered to her partner’s midsection. The complex interplay where feet slash out like knives and legs cut and intercut with lethal force carries with it tension, trust, doom and defiance, and all at once.
The most spectacular display involves tosses, lifts and extravagant flings high in the air, amplified by looping, swirling ribbons as a background. For daring, however, nothing could match the men with boleodaras (long ropes with weights attached) as they whip them around body and head with cool dispatchment. Their use is to capture animals by entangling their legs, but could just as easily harm themselves: a perfect metaphor for the interlocking of legs in the tango, and their whiplash speed.