Words by Lilly Pollard
Quoted at the front of the programme is George Bernard Shaw’s assertion that ‘dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire;’ and indeed there seems little doubt that this is what Tango Fire set out to communicate. The Argentine dance company’s scorching show promises to give audiences a glimpse into the history of this most seductive national dance, from the late 19th-century barrios of Buenos Aires to today’s globally-embraced totem.
The curtain rises on downtown BA where girls tease posturing men; their flirtations underscored by ever-watchful musicians. The dancers are impressive. There’s a studious exactness to their precise kicks of heel and flicks of skirt. Couples snake around one another, drawing our attention to the fire of this tango. The best moments are when the whole troupe takes to the floor; changes in tempo are emphasised and exaggerated. Lightning-fast footwork suddenly stops: a caesural moment where black-clad bodies are suspended by a choreographed lust.
The silky-voiced Jesus Hidalgo arrives in between dances, singing songs filled with a rich wistfulness to the accompaniment of the excellent band, Quarteto Fuego. But is there something slightly formulaic about this all? From the ‘banter’ between performers to the red and black costumes there is a feeling of tango-by-numbers. The sense, perhaps, of playing to audience expectations. I felt something was being held back, that this almost musical theatre construction of characters, scenes and ink-drawn sexuality wasn’t doing justice to the skill of both dancers and musicians.
The second act opens to a simple blue-lit backdrop. This is not what we were expecting, and it is so much the better for it. Where each dance in the first act felt like an – albeit very good – example of the same thing; now each part feels completely new, unexpected and gloriously surprising. Here musicians and dancers play entirely to the audience rather than one another. It is shameless showing off; solos for each pair, each musician and even newly flamboyant costumes have their moment. Choreographer German Cornejo and his partner Gisela Galeassi steal this show, which is no mean feat. However this sizzling pair thrill with their intensity, sensitivity and, it has to be said, good looks. Meanwhile Estefani Corsini’s outstanding solo felt like a most tuneful sorrow, crying out from the strings of her violin.
This is a dance from the brothels and bars of the barrios, danced by the poor, by European immigrants and by ex-slaves. Implicit in the dance is loss, longing and sadness. It doesn’t have to tell us its history; it doesn’t need a quote in the programme or an obvious title to speak of its sensuality. When only the music and the dance are the focus, then yearning, sensuality and sadness are effortlessly communicated. For all of its flamboyance, this fine show proves that the tango needs little embellishment to take us along on its journey. Entertained as I was by the first half – it was the raw second act that captured my imagination and carried me far away to distant times and places, only to return with the rapturous applause.