Thursday, 29 October 2009

Tango past and tango present

Dance is strange. Unlike an artefact, it exists only in the moment it is made, then it vanishes out of time and into memory, leaving, hopefully, a sense of order, of happiness. Its forms might be judged old-fashioned at one time, then a bit later as 'contemporary' again, but the dance itself is never older or newer than the moment we create it in, and we create it out of old forms, with our contemporary sensibilities.

It's too easy to assume that 'estilo milonguero' is old, and it would be tedious to try and preserve something exactly just because it's old. We don't learn to do something as it was done 70 years ago because it's old but because there's a good reason to do it that way, and that reason is almost always a technical reason - and because we enjoy doing it that way. If we want to bake bread, play an instrument or print an etching we need to learn techniques, and there are good practical reasons for the techniques; they work, they get results. It's always interesting to break the rules, but you have to know the techniques, the craft, to begin with. In classes, we can learn what generations of dancers have discovered and refined, we can learn about the possible movements of two bodies close together, the requirements of improvisation to the music, dancing on crowded floors. & on YouTube, we can watch video, like youngsters at milongas more than half a century ago watching the great dancers, getting the feel of it. Then we go out and make it for ourselves, and become part of the present and the history.

We're fortunate that some of the older dancers continue to travel and teach, and are welcomed wherever they are invited. I've no doubt money is important to them. State pensions can't amount to much in Argentina; people who might have spent a lot of their lives dancing might not have extensive savings and if they had savings in Argentina they might well have lost them in 2002. But I'm sure they travel primarily because they love what they do, and they enjoy the company of other people who love it too. Tango has given them more than pleasure, and they wish that for us. They love tango and want it to continue. Thanks to all of them!

(This was prompted by a recent, rather thoughtful post by Elizabeth Brinton, Muma. Apologies if I seem to disagree on one or two things.)

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

In the Spirit of Diaghilev

Sadler's Wells offered four choreographers, Wayne McGregor, Russell Maliphant, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Javier de Frutos, the challenge Diaghilev offered choreographers: 'Surprise me!' Four short works resulted, four world premieres in an evening.

The one that remains vividly in mind is Russell Maliphant's AfterLight, suggested by the geometric drawings of Nijinsky. The sparseness of it focused attention totally on the one dancer. Casually dressed, he stretches and turns within a pool of flickering light. There's nothing to distract from the dance; there's just music, light and a moving body. It was extraordinary.

Sidi Larbi used two dancers and a painted backdrop, a dance suggesting the discovery of eroticism, and its intoxication. I wonder if a dance performance isn't something of a ritual; we gather for a journey out of verbal reality. A dance is a dance, but when it tries to tell a story, when the stage setting tries to describe a place, there's too much superfluous information and something doesn't quite work. It becomes more of an entertainment, the focus is lost.

Judith Mackerell's review is here. And here there is an article about research by cognitive scientists into dance, how it is created, developed, remembered, with dancer and choreographer Wayne McGregor and his company. & here is a short video about that research taking place during creative rehearsals. Not like any dance class I've been to.

PS. It was on my mind while writing this that it was an all-male list of choreographers, and yet I've seen exciting work from female choreographers: Cathy Marston, Siobhan Davies and Shobana Jeyasingh to name contemporary women just in the UK. Diaghilev himself encouraged and commissioned Bronislava Nijinska, Nijinsky's sister. Then I saw an article reporting on a recent symposium on the low visibility of female choreographers.

My guess is that the four males have a higher box office appeal and they have international reputations. Not that their work is necessarily any more interesting.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Mimi Santapa

Someone kindly mentioned Mimi Santapa a while back: this seems to be the only YouTube vid of her dancing, and I'm linking it so I don't forget the name. She seems to have a great reputation as a teacher in BsAs, and it's said she hardly needs to travel to make a living from tango. She has, however, toured N. America and visited north England before.

I enjoy watching this. The dance sings along with the music, it's relaxed, effortless dancing, it doesn't require any anatomical peculiarities, any lifelong training, even any daily workout apart from dancing; it's just great basic salon, graceful, fluent, musical. There's a whole list of teachers I want to meet.

And the milonga, El Arranque, at 1759 Bartolome Mitre. It starts around 3pm, and at that time it's a bit of an old folks' milonga, everyone else being at work, I guess. People stroll in, order a coffee, read the papers, chat, dance a bit. It's a very relaxed, easy atmosphere, very courteous. Later it gets busier. A good place to go if you have a partner and want to practice, as it's not crowded, or just for a leisurely coffee. & it's way off the tourist routes.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

When one good thing leads to another...

I wondered why Ricardo Viqueira (in the video in the previous post) looked familiar. Browsing YouTube, of course, I found why: the Exhibition at Los Consagrados, a celebration of 64 years of Ricardo Vidort dancing tango, features Ricardo Vidort with Myriam Pincen, Osvaldo and Coca Cartery, Oscar and Mary Ann Casas – and Ricardo Viqueira and Mariana Hernandez. Pretty much a who's who of what's now known as 'estilo milonguero', the dance once known as 'tango'.

Continuing the browse, I found quite a few videos with his name (there might be others where he's simply called 'Ricardo'), but the one in the previous post remains a favourite. There are quite a few from Italy, but most aren't good image quality. On some you could count the pixels, on some a wrong aspect ratio squeezes two slender dancers into a single beanpole, others flicker badly, in others the lighting is poor. Pity.

From Italy? Ricardo Viqueira is another in that long list of Argentine tango teachers who visit Europe regularly to teach, and are unknown in the UK. He usually visits Italy: of course, Spanish and Italian speakers can understand each other relatively easily, but he has also taught in France, Switzerland, Spain, Brazil and the United States. Italy is where he'll be from 4 November to 4 December, including the Ferrara tango festival. He also teaches regularly in Buenos Aires.

His website says: 'A native of Buenos Aires, Ricardo has always been connected to the tango: first as a child he studied music at the Conservatorio Delva then later he began organizing successful milongas, among them the well known Club Sin Rumbo in Villa Urquiza... He is especially known for dancing Milonga with Traspié, Canyengue and as the creator of a simple teaching method with which both students and teachers have benefited.'

Of his teaching he says: 'I try to teach what I like to dance. It’s a close embrace where the man as well as the woman dance in their own axis. This allows one to dance in a small or crowed room as the couple dances within their own space. One dances with feet on the floor without limiting the steps or figures. For this, it is indispensable to learn the technique. This is where I put my major emphasis when teaching. I believe teaching the technique gives the student the sufficient tools to later create his or her personal dance. Each step or figure requires a technique, a lead or mark, musicality, and direction. All of these are fundamental. For this reason, at the time of teaching each step, I emphasis each of these points.'

His lead looks incredibly clear and precise. I see he slightly lifts and lowers his partner, which clarifies the lead and expresses the music, and although his feet often dance in double time, the two heads and torsos move with perfect smoothness.

Since I spent a happy half hour browsing all the videos it would be a pity not to link one or two. These are both with Myrta Tiseyra, Argentine milonguera who now lives and teaches in Italy.

And, quite opposite in style and feeling, a version of Canaro's Poema, which I'd never thought of as canyengue before...

Videos thanks to Laretetanguera.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Biagi, again.

Tango en el Cielo has just added a comment to this post about awareness of space on the floor, as well as a reference to another Biagi video, which I enjoyed a lot. As the reference doesn't translate as a link in the Comments I thought I should add it as a new post.

Thanks to everyone who dug out videos of dance to Biagi. I found it very useful to think about his distinctive, sometimes disconcerting music, and I've enjoyed watching all the different responses to it in dance.

Video thanks to flopytango

Monday, 12 October 2009

Tigre viejo

Video thanks to Abretango

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Cristal Pite and Kidd Pivot

An extraordinary evening at Sadler's Wells. Cristal Pite has been a dancer and choreographer since she was very young, now working with her own company, Kidd Pivot. She worked for some years with the Forsythe company, therefore at the most cerebral, physical and imaginative edge of dance, so that's the tradition of her own company.

'Lost Action' is one piece that lasts nearly 90 minutes without a break, and it didn't seem over long. For a start she and her dancers are extraordinarily supple, and to watch human bodies with that degree of flexibility moving is wonderful. When we watch movement we are involved in it, we follow it in our own bodies. & the choreography was very inventive with movement.

& the 'sense' of the piece? I guess it would be 'death and the dancer', because it's 'about' a dancer and death. The death is relived, replayed, worked around, re-imagined in a variety of circumstances on a bare stage, just in dance. Finally it's as if the dancers just have to accept it. Finally, after an extraordinarily intense male/female pas-de-deux, there's a motionless (male) body that can be lifted, turned, held, carried, but remains motionless.

An amazing feat of memory by the dancers, too, given the complexities of the movements. The sound track is a sound collage, sometimes overlapping voices, beats, just sound, little to jog the memory. I guess there's a sequence to the movements, each phrase leading to the next. A 90-minute choreography. (I'd have problems learning a three-minute choreography, not that I've ever tried, needed or wanted to... But perhaps learning choreographies is a way to develop the memory for movement.)

I wished the lighting wasn't so low throughout. The moving bodies said so much I wanted to see them as clearly as possible.

She's here, talking about her work and rehearsing with the Nederlands Dans Theater. And the Sadler's Wells trailer for 'Lost Action' is here.

I think there's something here for the tango community too: the more supple you are the easier it is to move, and suppleness can be improved. The 'milonguero' community might not pay much attention to stretching exercises, but if you watch the older dancers it is surprising how supple they still are. Impossible to say whether that's because they've danced so much, or whether they've danced so much because they are naturally supple; a bit of both, probably. But if you're not naturally bendy, it's worth trying to do something about it, because bendy people are likely to dance a lot better and look a lot better than stiff people.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Biagi... and Miguel Balbi

When I was looking for Biagi in music and dance I forgot to look at Tango and Chaos, where most of the best videos are to be found. In a comment, Anon reminded me of this video. Those smooth energetic turns are so effortlessly on the beat; could it be better? One thing that strikes me: if you use a lot of turns you are constantly surveying the space around you: they use space quite freely because they know where all the other dancers are.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Tango gets UN cultural approval

'The Tango has been declared part of the world's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations.' The full story is here. A tangible intangible?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


...also left the human race with one of the great recordings of 'Lagrimas y Sonrisas', 'tears and smiles', one of our all-time favourite valses, one of his greatest hits, and one that can be enjoyed without worrying about the legato and staccato of it. I love this improvisation by a young Argentine couple, on their way to church if I understand the caption correctly ('Improvisando un poco antes de salir para la capilla'). Why is it that I can watch this again, but I can't get beyond the first 20 seconds of those 'Campeones mundiales de tango salon' videos? Is that perverse? & she's not even dancing in CiFs!

Video thanks to Mecesarariet.

I might as well add this here: it seems to be part of the same 'session' as the above, a bit later perhaps, since she's had time to put on her dancing shoes. But the thing about it is that it's Biagi again, a tango, and one of his more complicated tangos, rhythmically, too. Their response to the urgent rhythms, with those odd misplaced beats, seems lots of short steps; but I think I prefer their vals, with a relatively straightforward Biagi. & it's great to see 'milonguero' danced and enjoyed by lively young people too. There's a lot of wit and enjoyment in it; there's clear, inventive leading and great following. 'Nuevo' hasn't conquered the world, not yet. I must find out where La Capilla is...

Again, video thanks to Mecesarariet.

Saturday, 3 October 2009


Recently I was trying to remember what entrega is. Literally it means 'handing over', 'surrender', but I know it has a particular meaning in tango. My usual research method turned up this page, dated two years ago; there are some interesting comments too. There were never many posts on the Chemin du Tango blog, and it hasn't been updated since last year, but the posts are interesting; come back soon, Chemin du Tango.

Chemin du Tango's writing about entrega is a great account of... well, of almost a non-event, but nevertheless of something wonderful, something really indescribable. But her non-description seems to be a good indication of what a leader should aim to give his partner. (So it's not an assault course of waved and waving limbs that they want, not a lively good time, not an aerobic session, not even a Q&A? Just...)

I must have read about entrega first on TangoandChaos where there's a whole page on it, including a great video and a wonderful photo of '...three of the world’s best tango dancers'. Tangoandchaos says that 'What the people of the clubs are really looking for is entrega. In fact, you could say that “entrega” is the whole point of tango'. He adds that this kind of tango '... has become buried under a step and figure oriented dance that’s performed with one eye on the mirror and the other eye on the audience. A tango designed to impress as many people as possible in a two-minute YouTube clip...'

Some things are easier to define by saying what they aren't. I'd be grateful if anyone out there can tell us more. Is it really that important?