Dallas — I confess: All I want to do every single day of my life is dance tango. I am apasionadísima about tango music, dance and culture. So, on Friday, May 22 having the Dallas Symphony Orchestra string section pair up with the Tango Sensations Quartet, presented by TITAS as part of the Soluna International Music and Arts Festival, playing the music of the avant-garde and iconoclastic Ástor Piazzolla, revved up my tango engine to full speed. That, paired with the expert performance by Studio 22 instructors Jairelbhi and George Furlong, along with the experienced dance couple Rosario Leatham Chávez and Alex Ancheta, capped off the evening’s top-notch entertainment. In addition, and just to round out the experience, Studio 22 invited local tangueros (tango dancers) to a mini-milonga (tango dance gathering) pre-concert in the lovely Meyerson Symphony Center foyer. Kudos for Charles Santos (Executive Director of Titas) and Peter Czornyj (Vice President of Artistic Operations of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra) for coordinating Tango Fiesta.
Local tangueros—yours truly included—danced to recorded music as a preamble to the tango concert while entertaining the earlier Mahler concert audience as they were taking their leave. As is usually the case, observers gathered entranced, watching social tango dancers share the magic of this incredible dance. Why incredible? Dance research indicates that tango is unusual among all social and couple dances in its oxymoronic, structured lack of structure.
While the dance measures follow the standard eight-count and dancers take copious dance lessons in order to understand an array of possible movements, the lead is free to interpret the dance to the melody, the vocals, the percussion or the silences in the music. The dance movements, in which one person leads and the other contributes by following, are led by the corporeal information provided by the lead through the embrace. One never knows which way the next movement will be! A good follower must learn to interpret the lead’s intention, without anticipating. A good lead interprets the music for the couple as well as navigates the dance floor, which moves in a clock-wise direction. As a social tango dancer of ten years (without skipping unless there was a death in the family, severe inclement weather or illness), for me tango dancing is a necessary part of my life, a meditation in movement, a magical non-verbal activity predicated on skill and intuition. I love and respect this musical and dance form and am grateful for the many rich experiences it has offered me while dancing throughout the world. Tango is a global movement!
The music, of course, is queen (in Spanish, la música, is a feminine noun; el baile, the dance, is masculine). The quartet, led by virtuosi Michael Guttman (violin), J.P Jofre (bandoneon), Alexander Gurning (piano), Enrico Fagone (double bass) with 15 string musicians of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra displayed their combined virtuosity to 12 pieces announced in the program, followed by two more in an encore. The program began with Piazzolla’s very modern (and very un-tangoish) Tres minutes con la realidad (Three Minutes with Reality) establishing the tone for the evening, an eclectic mix of experimental Piazzolla’s hand-in-hand classical tango compositions such as those by Mario Demarco (Solfeando), the world-known crooner Carlos Gardel (Por una Cabeza), the very early tango by Ángel Villoldo (El Choclo), as well as the Texas debut of a new composition by J.P. Jofre (Primavera). Other Piazzolla pieces included Escualo, Kicho, Adiós Nonino, Milonga del Ángel, Verano Porteño and Estaciones Porteñas as well as his emblematic Libertango.
In Escualo, Jofre on the king of tango instruments, the bandoneón, created a lovely rapport with the rich sound of the DSO string section. Next, Enrico Fagone on the double bass played a solo introduction in Kicho that evoked a free association of words such as: mysterious, melodic, deep, playful, insistent, urgent, virile, and rich dark chocolate. For me, it was one of the highlights of the evening. It was delicious!
The fourth piece, the classical tango Solfeando introduced the premier dancers, Jairelbhi and George Furlong in the first of several stunning costume changes. In this piece she was metallic blue and he in a classy white suit. It was a respectful introduction to tango roots as a social dance, highlighting the embrace and connection between the couple, and foregoing flashy stage movements. The knowing audience, filled to about eighty percent capacity, welcomed the dancers with hearty applause.
No dancing took place during the solemn Adiós Nonino (which Piazzolla wrote while on tour in Puerto Rico upon hearing of his beloved father’s death). Again, the bandoneón, Piazzolla’s own primary instrument—although he was a classically trained pianist also—said it all. Pathos. Loss. Nostalgia. Remembrance.
With Milonga del Ángel and in La Cumparsita both couples danced a finely choreographed piece, switching partners. The colors in place were the women in teal and purple. The Furlongs next performed a slow, melancholic, string-driven Invierno Porteño, an elegant and challenging piece. Slow movements in tango, as in modern dance and ballet, require tremendous strength and control, an area in which the Furlongs excel.
Jofre’s original composition Primavera is a lovely listening piece that held the appreciative audience attentive, as the one-hour program wound down but not without first enjoying the smooth virtuosity of Ancheta and Leatham Chávez in fire engine red, dancing to the traditional El Choclo. As social dancers, the Dallas community is used to seeing this couple out on the dance floor. They are generous dancers, sharing their skills and embrace with many of us. As an encore, master performers and equally generous, George and Jairelbhi Furlong interpreted Piazzolla’s melancholic Oblivion, she in a stunning red and black dress. They sustained their trademark dramatic, slow interpretations and earned impromptu applause when she went into an incredibly slow split. The evening ended in the welcome frenzy of Piazzolla’s energetic Libertango, danced in synchronicity by both couples with quick and vigorous ganchos and boleos.
Much to the credit of the dancers, who first met with the quartet and the DSO musicians on Wednesday, May 20 to listen to the music, actually only had two full rehearsals, totaling approximately four hours on the stage. Hearty applauses went to the talented musicians and the very professional dancers by a most appreciative and satisfied audience!
» Teresa Marrero is Associate Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Theater in the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures, at the University of North Texas.
» We have a complete schedule in our Soluna Festival special section on TheaterJones. Look for features and previews during the Soluna Festival in our special section. For more information, such as ticket prices, visit mydso.com/solunafestival