Plano — Hugo Patyn and wife Celina Rotundo, guest dancers from Buenos Aires, Argentina, starred in Evolution Tango’s production Shades of Tango, which spanned the gamut of tango music history, from the traditional to the most experimental. The show, divided into four parts, featured Dallas artists/instructors George and Jairelbhi Furlong of Evolution Tango, and two talented local couples, Rosario Leatham Chávez dancing with partner Alexandre Ancheta, and Victoria Lim with Cosmin Spiridon. The pieces were evenly divided between the tango, the waltz and the milonga, the three tango musical and dancing rhythms. As a professional performance this show was choreographed within the tradition that is called tango fantasy (the category reserved as descriptor for tango for the stage as juxtaposed to tango as social dancing). Staged simply, the focus was placed on the dancers and the musicians. Noteworthy were the numerous costume changes by the women, and the fact that all costumes were designed and hand-made by the principal dancer Celina Rotundo.
While it is easy to be seduced by tango dancing’s sensuality and energy, it was rewarding to see that the show featured the music itself. Stellar performances were displayed by virtuoso pianist Eduardo Rojas (concert pianist and music director), Mark Landson on violin and Esteban Rojas on bass. Roberto Furlong, father of dancer George Furlong, an accomplished musician, played acoustic guitar solos. Several of the instrumental pieces, such as Desde el Alma by Osvaldo Pugliese (Argentina, 1905-1995) and Libertango and Adiós, Nonino (piano solo by Rojas) by Astor Piazzolla (Argentina, 1921-1992) were performed without dancer accompaniment, brilliantly placing the spotlight on the virtuosity of the musicians and the music itself. Particularly rich were the sounds of Furlong’s guitar solos, and emotionally arresting the piano solo by Rojas, Landson on violin and E. Rojas on bass.
For the uninitiated, tango is understood as both a musical and dance tradition that emerged from both Argentina and Uruguay (to this day aficionados still debate the origins of both the music and that of one of its main exponents, Carlos Gardel). Generally speaking, tango emerges with the heavy influx of Italian immigrants to the port city of Buenos Aries, particularly the barrio (neighborhood) of La Boca, now low-end but colorful suburb of Buenos Aires, generally called an arrabal (ghetto). Tango dancing, initially considered low class and unworthy of attention by the upper classes, was transformed in Paris. It allegedly arrived in the 1910s via sailors who traveled between the port cities of Buenos Aires and Marseille; by 1912 it had taken Paris by storm. One of the first couple dances in the history of Western dance, obviously preceded by the Austrian waltz, tango along with the Cuban danzón (and its offspring the contemporary salsa), both have European and African musical roots and both became popular at the turn of the twentieth century. What makes the tango unique in couple dancing is that, unlike all others, it is does not follow a set pattern of eight count steps.
Forget the stereotypical depictions of tango dancers with a rose in their mouth! Watered-down American ballroom tango is not the same as Argentinean tango. Argentine tango’s unique appeal is that it can be danced to any of the instruments, to the melody, to the rhythm or to the vocals, and, there are no set patterns to follow. So, how do the dancers know what is next if there is no choreography such as in social dancing? They listen to each other’s corporal gestures in a complex system of learned physical communication skills, which signal certain types of step possibilities. The follower must, in this sense, listen to the lead in order to be in the moment without anticipating, and this takes hours of training. In this sense, tango becomes a magical dancing meditation; for many it transcends to the category of a passion, of an addiction. In addition to the many health benefits to dancing in general (it helps slow down degenerative diseases of aging), one can dance tango just about anywhere in the world. No translation required.
Contemporary tango dancing generally overlaps into various categories or styles from the traditional milonguero (or close embrace whereby the emphasis is on walking and keeping the feet on the ground), tango salón (where the embrace is at an angle and less close, the feet still keep contact with the ground and arguably allows for more figures), tango nuevo (characterized by the most open or loose embrace and the feet are allowed to come off the ground in increasingly daring figures), and then there is tango fantasía or show tango, whereby there is a choreographed combination of tango moves from the other categories, that include aerial lifts from dance traditions such as ballet or modern dance. This is the type of dancing one sees at shows, such as Shades of Tango. This style wows the crowd, yet it is unsuitable for social dancing for obvious reasons (dance space at social events is limited, virtuosity requires the rigors of intense formal training).
In this category of tango fantasía, Patyn and Rotundo excel. Characterized by the many complex aerial lifts from figure skating, modern dance and drops borrowed from other popular dance such as the infamous neck-drop and the coffee grinder from salsa, Rotundo, a professional figure skater, is at her best displaying her physical strength and aerial virtuosity. She makes flying through the air look effortless. Her stage presence and dramatic facial expression in the pieces such as Hoy that require defiance and a femme fatale aura are particularly notable. The same held true for the more fluid piece Marea, or the fast-paced Chique. Her stage charisma is quite commanding. Patyn, a Master tango dancer and teacher has found in Rotundo a perfect balance; his strength and technique creates the frame in which she can shine. Their element seems to be fire and air.
In their solos Jairelbhi and George Furlong focused on slow, and deliberate grounded moves (although they did some lifts) offered an interesting juxtaposition. This was evident in their rendition of Piazzolla’s melancholic Oblivion. Quite challenging of themselves, the slower moves require extreme balance and physical control, particularly on the woman’s part. Jairelbhi Furlong shines in these sustained, lyrical moves. In the beautiful waltz entitled Flor de lino (Linen Flower), the Furlong family united as father Roberto played the solo guitar as son and daughter-in-law danced a touching old world courtship. Refined and ethereal, their element seems to be water and earth.
In two crowd-pleasing segments the threesome of George, Celina and Jairelbhi, in the popular song Comme il Faut followed by Hugo, George and Jairelbhi in Pavadita proved that it can take more than two to tango!
Applause to the local amateur dancers Rosario Laetham Chávez/ Alexandre Ancheta and Victoria Lim/Cosmin Spiridon. The group choreography worked well for the most part with varying degrees of efficacy. Particularly engaging was what could be called the Tropical segment (Part 3 in the program), which featured the lively and humorous rhythms of the milonga. Highly skilled dancers one and all, the issue of stage presence for Lim-Spiridon, both newcomers to professional performance, will improve with further coaching. Laetham-Chávez (with previous stage experience as a ballet folklórico dancer) and Ancheta (who looked dangerously like Andy García) seemed to be stage naturals. All are avid social dancers, they can be seen at most milongas (tango social dances) in the Metroplex. (For a social dancing calendar and lessons in the area go to http://www.creativetango.com/calendar).
The last word goes to the musicians whose virtuosity elevated this show to even higher ground. This is the trio of Rojas, Rojas and Landson’s fourth year of association with Evolution Tango. They wowed the appreciate audience; Eduardo Rojas’ passionate solo rendition of Piazzola’s eulogy to his father, Adios, Nonino, had the crowd on its feet in a mid-concert ovation.
In a brief pre-concert interview I asked Eduardo, a Colombian-born, Texas Christian University-trained classical concert pianist, his opinion of Piazzolla’s music. As connoisseur readers will recall, Piazzolla was a controversial figure in his day, accused by traditionalists of “destroying” tango music. “Piazzolla is contemporary, modern; he broke the traditional harmony schemes. He introduced classical elements to tango music and counter points from jazz. He is the perfect mix of intellect and feeling. His passionate music reaches people at a deeply emotional level. His driving beat takes you on an emotional journey.” And Rojas, a rising international figure, did just that.
A less-glowing word goes to the technical staff of the Courtyard Theater in Plano. A lovely space with comfortable seating, competent acoustics, and ample parking there were more than a few lighting cues missed during all three performances. Artists pay for the space and the technical staff, therefore they deserve professional results. If the Courtyard Theater wants to draw high-end entertainment such as this one, their production requires immediate attention.
» Teresa Marrero is an avid social Argentine tango dancer and can be found at most milongas indulging her passion for dance. In her day job she is Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino/a Theater in the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of North Texas.