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On Friday February 4th, Tango Fusion (my dance company with my husband Johnny Martinez) participated in an exciting Tango event at The Egg in Albany. The show Tango Fire was being presented that evening and my husband Johnny and I had been invited to do the pre-show talk at 7:15 to educate the audience about Tango to further enhance their evening. When we started the talk, each of the the 100 chairs was occupied and as the remainder of the audience arrived for the show, the crowd gradually expanded to 250.
I started the presentation by enumerating the history of Tango beginning with the different cultural influences that shaped its origins in the 1880's. Giving the historical highlights, I recounted Tango's early days in Buenos Aires, its trip to Europe and back to the Americas all before 1915. Some of the Tango's more provocative steps like the ganchos and its close proximity of the partners, led an early 19th century pope to declare the Tango as "The downfall of western civilization." Those audience members who had danced Tango before nodded approvingly while newcomers to the dance form were impressed by its political and religious impact.
I spoke of the Golden Age of the Tango,the 1920's through the early 1950's, when many bands were formed, composers were prolific and tango dancing was the national pastime. Then in the 1950's the political climate changed and public assembly was not allowed which greatly affected the dances. Popular Tango performers and teachers at the time had to put their passion aside and take up different jobs such as mailmen and clerks.
By 1985, the dance had started to make a comeback and a dynamic show came out of Argentina and made its way to New York via Paris: Tango Argentino. I had just started partner dancing in NYC and witnessed its arrival in New York. I tried to impart to the crowd how momentous this occasion was and how Tango Argentino took New York by storm and eventually the world. The influence of the show could be seen in the ballroom world, fashion world, commercials, theater and dance world at large. The choreographer of Tango Argentino, Juan Carlos Copes, took an interest in my dancing and trained me gratis.(that's another story)
After elaborating on the significance of that show and its impact on the dance world, I brought the crowd up to date on where Tango is now 25 years later. It is in fact everywhere. Every city and most smaller cities in the US have a Tango community. Albany has one, Hudson has one and we have one here in Saratoga Springs, NY.
My husband Johnny Martinez then presented another side to Tango: the music and the different styles. He explained the difference between Milonga, Tango Vals and Tango. He played snippets of music and we demonstrated on the rug. A historically relevant demo, as Cafe Tango was frequently danced on carpets in Paris. I prefer an uncarpeted floor. The demos were improvisational and gave the audience the flavor for the dance as well as illustrating the lead - follow aspect of the dance. Tango is the consummate lead -follow dance as their is no specific rhythm. It is great training for all dances.
ONTO THE SHOW - At the conclusion of our talk, we entertained a few questions and then moved into the theater to enjoy Tango Fire. It was a packed audience and the company did not disappoint. They worked their butts off. There was more dancing than anything and let's face it, the music is sublime and the singing is inspired, but most of us come to see the spectacular dancing.
The first act had a historical sensibility with dancers wearing classic costumes and dancing to more traditional and older Tango composers. Hair(both men and women) was slicked or in an updo.
The second act featured more contemporary music by composers such as Astor Piazzolla. Costumes and hair had taken on a racier feeling with see through lace costumes for the women, tight shirts for the men and hair down and flying. One audience member commented that they felt that " the dancers got through the first act just so they could do the second." They did seem to love the more contemporary music but personally I felt most of them had a passion for the traditional tango music and dancing of the first act as well.
The company's energy, technique and performance levels were all top notch. However, had I officially reviewed the show, I would have made the following comments. Overall, I enjoyed the choreography but some of it was repetitive. For instance, there were far too many battements(high leg kicks) and they eventually lost their luster because we had seen it already. Some of the second act solo numbers took on a Hustle feeling, where the lifts were so disco-like we lost any sense of Tango. Finally, I longed for at least one slow sensuous number. The pacing, although exciting, was almost always the same and they hit everything hard. A little ebb and flow if you please.
Although I feel these issues I mentioned are valid, they did in no way take away from the fact that Tango Fire's show was first rate. Happily, they had veered away from the all too frequent structure of many touring Tango shows where: someone sings, someone dances, someone plays an instrument, someone sings, someone dances, someone plays an instrument and so forth and so on. Tango Fire did not hold back on the dancing one bit. They showered us with plenty of dance and peppered the show with singing and instrumental solos. The musicians Quatrotango were magnificent in both acts demonstrating an ease with both the traditional milongas of the first act and the jazz inspired Piazzolla tangos of the second.
My husband and I left the theater satisfied with both our participation in the evening and the great show we had just watched.
If anyone is interested in learning this intriguing dance form, contact me in the comment area and I can guide you to classes all over the United States and in the Albany capital district area in New York.
Diane Lachtrupp Martinez