If there is any dance form that is fool proof, it has to be tango. That is not to say that performances can't vary greatly, from the glamour and personality of Tango Argentino, to the intensity of Forever Tango or to the flamboyance of Tango Buenos Aires. In the case of This is Tango Now, performing Identidad (Identity) this weekend at the Courtyard Theatre, it stretched the limits of the form to the breaking point.
Artistic directors Fernanda Ghi, Guillermo Merlo and Alfredo Minetti apparently wished to avoid the obvious—smoky bars, hostile encounters, trysts on the balcony. Their more unconventional solution was to create a dark little tale that sometimes got in the way of pure dance.
The conceit, if it can be called that, was all about identity, made clear by the introduction of a sad marionette controlled by a towering puppet master. Their sudden appearance sets off a scream from an infatuated couple caught up in a tango. Their world seems to be shattered.
The same scene with the marionette and master repeats twice more, with the second encounter (Struggle) displaying a limp marionette sliding out of her long dress and breaking free. She hesitates, returns and slips away yet again, like a butterfly out of her cocoon. Dressed now only in a cream-colored slip and soft dancing shoes, Ms. Ghi rolls across the floor to end up at the feet of Mr. Merlo. He pulls her up, and they engage in an intense tango.
Ms. Ghi's breaking free only to entangle with a new partner turned out to be the real leitmotif of the show. Jairelbhi and George Furlong appear half hidden behind a large umbrella slanted downward in Privacy, calling attention to the neatly slicing of legs and flip of blue skirt. The umbrella folds, and Mr. Furlong imprisons his wife with its long handle by holding it across her back, the better to hold her close. But the mood is playful, and Ms. Furlong does not object.
Ms. Ghi breaks free again in Reminiscence, appearing this time in a gauzy shroud. Mr. Merlo looks on with curiosity. She skirts around him, and at last he pulls out the tube like shroud, revealing a long red gown. In Claiming, the same couple trade Mr. Merlo's jacket, one putting it on as they dance, then sliding it back to the other. The exchange is smooth and rapid, and repeated many times.
In Fantasy, Ms. Ghi eludes Mr. Merlo's grasp, with her eventually succumbing to engage in a flurry of rapid quarter turns and sudden lifts.
In Curiosity, Mariela Barufaldi and Jeremias Massera climb up and down a ladder with tentative steps, sometimes with the tilted too far to either side, holding hands for support. If one lets go, both will fall.
All of this switching of jackets, umbrella, clothes, shoes and scarfs suggests endless restlessness, a desire for a new alter ego or at least, a test of a partner's trust. In some respects, it conflicts with the very essence of tango itself, which is all about passions that surges and sizzles. Fortunately, that brooding passion—as well as playfulness—surfaces throughout, with all the attendant dips and whirls, flashing feet and legs that wrap snakelike around a partner's waist. The movement is as sharp as a razors edge, and as daring. It hardly needed ladders and marionettes.
◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.