A choreographer and a visual artist joined forces to create this show that offers an unbiased and current perspective on the quintessential dance of Buenos Aires, without ignoring its true exponents: the milongueros.
Since the miracle that was Tango Argentino, the show created by Claudio Segovia, which toured the world, was a hit in Paris and on Broadway and sowed the seeds of the tango dance boom on a global scale in the 1980s, it has not always been easy to find new and better ways to present the dance on stage. Apart from the usual “for export” offerings, or more or less commendable attempts to approach it from the perspective of the musical genre – without forgetting the noteworthy experiences exploring the fusion of tango with contemporary dance undertaken by Ana María Stekelman and her company Tangokinesis in the 1990s – it would seem that there is still a certain stigma attached to this dance, which is at the same time both popular in origin yet extremely complex, full of subtleties, and tremendously seductive, especially in the eyes of foreigners.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
“There is certainly a lot of prejudice toward tango among our best and most talented artists. And such prejudice ends when an artist like Pina Bausch comes along and becomes fascinated by tango. Then, even if it just for a while, we begin to see it through different eyes.” So says Agustina Videla, the creator of Social Tango, “a dance show” that has just opened at the Teatro de la Ribera in the neighborhood of La Boca. A dancer and choreographer who was classically and modern trained, Videla became a tango dancer at the age of 18 and danced for over a decade with Claudio Asprea at festivals in Germany, Russia, Sweden, Portugal, Italy and the United States. While teaching at the renowned dancehall Salón Canning, between classes she began to mull over the story of a man who undergoes a veritable transformation through his encounter with tango.
“I had jotted down a few lines of a script about a guy who was given the chance to be someone by the milonga, to escape from his everyday routine, from his fate as a lonely loser,” recounts the choreographer about the inspiration for the show. “I called it The Comeback, in a sense because that dark character found his redemption in the mythical space of the milonga based on his talent for dancing. That then led to the need to look, from a different perspective, at the inside world of the dancehalls and the characters that frequent them.”
The choreographer gradually put together a show with a dual aim, which in fact ultimately becomes one: “On the one hand, I wanted to translate all the beauty of tango dance to the stage, with the help of seven professional dance couples. But without disconnecting the dance from its social aspect, from what tango means to people. I wanted to give a human face to that art of pure improvisation and creation, which enables people to connect with art at any age, based on a dual communion with the music and with one’s partner.”
But how was she to succeed in getting the “human face,” that of the members of the highly diverse community that makes up the milonga, to appear on the stage?
THE EYE OF ROCK MUSIC
Nora Lezano is known – somewhat to her dislike –, as “the rock photographer.” But, even though she distanced herself some years ago from that world and has made forays into theater (she put together Relámpagos de lo invisible and Tapiz Pizarnik, shows based on texts by Olga Orozco and Alejandra Pizarnik respectively), it is impossible to forget her portraits of Charly García, Fito Páez, Gustavo Cerati, Andrés Calamaro, Luis Alberto Spinetta or Ricardo Mollo, among many other stars of the homegrown rock universe. With regard to tango, she worked on Café de los maestros, Gustavo Santaolalla’s tribute to the last greats of the genre. Moreover, “when I was a child Goyeneche and Julio Sosa would be playing in our house,” confesses Lezano, who was responsible for the video and photography in Social Tango. She was to be the one whose job was to show the true faces of the milonga, through three short films featuring seven characters that represent the great diversity found in the most popular dancehalls of Buenos Aires.
“I was really captivated by that space, which was capable of bringing together a great variety of people from different cultures, generations and socio-economic backgrounds, with the single desire of getting out on the floor and losing themselves in the dance,” she explains. “The first thing I did was the black and white portraits in a mini studio I set up in Cachirulo, one of the most popular milongas of Buenos Aires. The people were brought from the dancehall and placed in front of a neutral white background to highlight their individuality and reflect that diversity that coexists in the city’s milongas.”
In addition to the portraits, which will be displayed in the Photographic Space at the Teatro de la Ribera, in an exhibition that runs in parallel to the show and is curated by Juan Travnik, Nora Lezano directed three short films, also in black and white, which interact with the dancing by showing fragments of the lives of the real protagonists of the milongas: the ordinary people captured in their solitude. Also presented are images of the most tangoesque aspect of tango: Buenos Aires itself, its streets, its neighborhoods and main avenues. And, lastly, the inside world of a milonga, the moment of encounter between the various characters. The dance and its surroundings, what happens at the tables, at the door or at the bar of any milonga in Buenos Aires.
THE DIVERSE AND THE COMTEMPORARY
“I really appreciate the attitude adopted by Nora, who never lost sight of her aim of throwing herself into observing that world through her own eyes, without any kind of preconceptions,” says the choreographer, who is none too fond of categories or labels such as “salon tango” or “stage tango” for defining the different styles and forms of tango dance:
she prefers “to construct a complex dance from simple elements, the challenge of which lies in finding the quality of the movements and their complicity with the melody.”
Musically, Social Tango remains in keeping with the aesthetic premises that define the rest of the show: the diversity typical of the milonga is reflected in the choice of tracks, which range from electronic tangos by Narcotango to compositions by the orchestras of the 1940s, as well as songs performed by Bebo & Cigala or “It Takes Two to Tango” by Louis Armstrong. “We kept away from such well-travelled tangos as ‘La Yumba’ or ‘La Cumparsita’,” explains Videla. “Instead we chose stuff that isn’t heard so often like ‘Poema’ by Francisco Canaro or ‘Buscándote’, by Osvaldo Fresedo’s orchestra.”
The same desire to steer clear of the ever-threatening visual stereotype of tango can be observed in the costumes designed for the women by Renata Schussheim, which avoid the archetype of the “femme fatale” with her low-cut dresses and fishnet stockings, offering instead a more innocent but nonetheless sensual aesthetic.
“Our aesthetic and conceptual quest is for theater-goers to connect with a music and dance that belong to them, that are theirs. But by looking at tango from the present, from our contemporary perspective,” states Videla, who ends by saying, “We wanted to pay tribute to all the unknowns of tango, those who dance it in their everyday lives.”