Sunday, 25 January 2009

Tango timeline

For a while I've been trying to find time to compile a chronological list of the great names of tango, of musicians and singers. Information from, 'Sitio declarado de Interes Nacional'.

Roberto Firpo 1884 - 1969
Genaro Esposito 1886 – 1944
Francisco Canaro 1888 – 1964
Carlos Gardel 1890 – 1935
Osvaldo Fresedo 1897 – 1984
Rosita Melo 1897 - 1981
Pedro Maffia 1899 – 1967
Julio De Caro 1899 – 1980
Angel D'Agostino 1900 – 1991
Juan D'Arienzo 1900 – 1976
Pedro Laurenz 1902 – 1972
Carlos Di Sarli 1903 – 1960
Mercedes Simone 1904 – 1990
Angel Vargas 1904 - 1959
Osvaldo Pugliese 1905 – 1995
Francisco Fiorentino 1905 - 1955
Ricardo Tanturi 1905 – 1973
Rudolpho Biagi 1906 – 1969
Carlos Dante 1906 – 1985
Miguel Calo 1907 – 1972
Libertad Lamarque 1908 - 2000
Alfredo De Angelis 1910 – 1992
Nelly Omar 1911 -
Alfredo Gobbi 1912 – 1965
Florindo Sassone 1912 – 1982
Alberto Castillo 1914 – 2002
Anibal Troilo 1914 - 1975
Enrique Francini 1916 – 1978
Horacio Salgan 1916 -
Armando Pontier 1917 - 1983
Raul Beron 1920 - 1982
Astor Piazzolla 1921 – 1992
Roberto Rufino 1922 - 1999
Roberto Goyenche 1926 - 1994
Horacio Ferer 1933 -

Not many women in the list, although there were many cancionistas. A couple of interesting exceptions: Francisca “Paquita” Bernardo, a bandoneon player and band leader who took on a young pianist called Osvaldo Pugliese in the early 1920s, and Rosita Melo, whose vals, Desde el Alma, was recorded by the Firpo orchestra in 1911 when she was just 14. She went on to teach piano at the Conservatory, and was famous as a composer and as a performer of classical and popular music.

Rosita Melo
A man who's spent his life literally putting his life on the line, with an obsession with the Twin Towers since childhood, when they were just being built; wife and friends who've supported his playful obsession with balance, and filmed him and each other since they were young; a film-maker who saw and conveyed the beauty and awareness in all these faces, of Philippe Petit and his friends, and of their footage of each other, and who recreated the astonishing drama of a series of illegal high-wire acts culminating in rigging a cable between the Twin Towers and walking, sitting, lying, dancing on it for 40 minutes a quarter of a mile up... Breathtaking, beautiful, and thoughtful, too. Man on Wire.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Ms H asked me about the step I was trying to describe on 17 January. The video I was watching is an old teaching video which isn't on YouTube, and is no longer commercially available. But the step goes on, and it occurred to me that I've linked only one video of Tete and Silvia, and it isn't a particularly clear one. So here are two of the best. If these don't convince you that this is how tango should be danced, then... well go and try to dance like Pablo Veron. Have fun!

First, Gallo Ciego. Tete grew up listening to Pugliese live, knows every note of the music, and loves dancing to it. This actually begins with the step I was trying to describe but it has been cut clumsily. But look at 0.30 to 0.32, and at 1.09 to 1.11. Although it is part of a sequence of moves, you can see he leads a step with his chest, without taking a step himself.

& because vals is what they love best of all, I've got to include a vals. At 0.35 to 0.37 he leads a backstep with his chest, and follows through with his right foot, bringing Silvia to the cross. That's what I was trying to describe. There's also a wonderful moment where you see their affection for each other. It's great to see people enjoying dancing together!

Tete can seem quite forceful as a dancer: this is Tete at his lightest, and it also shows how light he can be on his feet. I love their interaction with the music in these two clips. I can watch them over and over.

Monday, 19 January 2009

F for Fake: Orson Welles enjoying himself on Ibiza in the company of two fakers, Emyl de Hory the great art faker, and Clifford Irvine who faked the autobiography of Howard Hughes, just at the time the scandals surrounding them were beginning to unfold. De Hory could make the most beautiful drawings and paintings in any modernist style, Picasso, Matisse, Van Dongen, Modigliani, and fool any expert eye, and yet could never make his own work. Because of him 'experts' have been discredited, and what matters now is provenance. Orson Welles performing magic tricks, not least with the editing table, faking reality by making films, who long ago crossed swords, to his disadvantage, with Howard Hughes. F for Fake, made in between The Deep, unfinished due to the death of Lawrence Harvey, although it is said to be complete except for one scene, and The Other Side of the Wind, with John Huston and Jeanne Moreau, which should have been released last year, 2008, after decades of legal wrangling about ownership. Something to look forward to.

Welles as a guerilla film-maker, operating with minimal resources and able to produce extraordinary results because he understood what is needed to create an illusion.
In case Valentino seemed in poor taste, here's how it should have been done.

El Gallego and Marta dancing Canyengue.

Many years ago, El Gallego's father taught him how to dance tango. "Stand up straight, learn how to step, and listen to the music." There may be several dancers called El Gallego and I don't know if it was this one. But it's still good advice, even if your name isn't El Gallego!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

I skipped over this clip a few days ago because the beginning is useless, and the dancing starts with milonga... But it's worth watching. The milonga is interesting. Maipu 444 is a venue some of the best dancers come to -- and their milonga is largely 'lisse', without the quick, 'traspie' steps. Then the leaders show their partners back to their seats, women to the left, men to the right. (The two ends of the room are women and couples.) Then there are two tangos. The next tanda doesn't start until the floor is cleared. This is a fairly clear, well-lit picture of what a moderately-busy milonga is like.

Makes me nostalgic looking at all these milonga clips. At the time I was a bit overcome by social awkwardness at the formality of it, and by my uncertain castellano and tango, but looking back I'm struck by how at home I felt, what a pleasure it was to be there.

According to YouTube this is Maipu 444 on a Wednesday night, but that night is the gay milonga LA Marshall, so there must be some mistake, or the programme's changed... It's definitely Maipu 444. I was living just up the road.

Antonioni's L'Eclisse came and went... It just didn't enter and occupy my head, as did La Notte. Same theme, tho', personal dissatisfaction against a background of Italy's 60s plenty. Vitti and Delon just didn't make it real, as Moreau and (to a lesser extent Mastroianni) made La Notte real.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Tango with spurs.

There was an interesting discussion here a few weeks back about the meaning of 'milonguero/a', which focussed on posture. The close hold, 'apilado', certainly helps define it. But, watching again closely the teaching videos Tete and Silvia made with Daniel Trenner in the mid-90s, I'm struck that walking forwards defines the type of moves. We're always taught that tango is a walking dance, but we're also taught to start everything by stepping sideways, to the left for leaders, hardly a conventional walk. Much of Tete's dance starts in 'parallel' – he's walking with his partner. Then as he steps forward with his left foot (his partner back with her right) he turns her so her left foot is behind her, continuing to lead forwards with his chest. As her left foot touches down he steps forward with his right, which brings her to the cross. This is the 'milonguero' lead to the cross: no side step is involved. Tango evolved on crowded floors, and this is certainly economical with the space. On a crowded floor there's no room for a side step preceded by lots of baroque flourishes.

And a bit of fun, and maybe more. I came across this ages ago, laughed, and forgot about it. Recently, thinking about the lack of film of early tango, I took a second look.

1921, so this is one of the first pieces of dance on film. Sadly the music has been added: of course, 1921 was pre-talkie. Valentino was well known as a taxi dancer in New York around 1916, and could dance any current dance, including tango. His tango looks like a cross between canyengue (the bent knees) and later tango (the arm positions). There are also recognisable steps although her giro doesn't use the back step. Whether he'd want to dance for long with a partner who hangs on his neck, or whether she'd want to dance for long with her head thrown back... well, this was Hollywood. & dig the spurs. The film starts in Buenos Aires, then young Julio signs up to fight in World War 1, reforms and dies in a war which is shown as devastating. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1921.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Byzantium at the RA. Having exhausted myself on Friday evening I could have been in a more receptive state. Low lighting levels: necessary of course for works on paper but surely not for stone carving or metal work? As for the mdf arches... Was all this someone's idea of making an RA exhibition into a Byzantine experience? I was immediately attracted to a big mosaic, a pastoral view of the seasons, and to small sculptures of shepherds carrying sheep. The Antioch Chalice, aka. the Holy Grail seemed badly displayed at a low level since you had to kneel down to see the beautiful metalwork of grape vines and people. Or was it the aim to make people kneel down in front of it?!

I must admit I didn't read the explanations in each room, so I was left wondering why one of the oldest icons was in the last room: extraordinary because it seemed to follow artistically from those amazing late-Egyptian tomb paintings in encaustic which seem to prefigure 19th century portraits. There was one, probably from the British Museum, at the other end of the show in room three. The icon, as I remember, was 6th century, and looked quite portrait-like, even having directional lighting (from the left) and was also painted in encaustic. It seemed to have so much more life than the later, grander icons, which looked more like corporate advertising: the corporation in question being the Church. Micro-mosaic was new to me, the tesserae being smaller than 1mm in size; so small you hardly even notice them. Some great books, serious physical things that put paperbacks to shame, and some marvellous free painting in them. Some lovely unpretentious everyday pottery with strange paintings of birds and fish. The crowning weirdness of the show: the very last piece you see is a breathtaking painting of people being attacked by a posse of black demons with lassos as they climb the ladder to heaven; you can almost see them sweating, heart in mouth, as they see a demon out of the corner of the eye and remember being angry with someone years ago... and then you walk straight out into the bright lights of the RA shop. Still wondering what that was intended to mean.

& Sunday morning, a quick look around Tate Modern. Rothko never greatly appealed to me, but the big room of big Rothkos was interesting because there were a lot of people in it, and most of them didn't seem interested in the paintings: it was a congenial place to sit and chat. So Rothko as a background to Sunday-morning conversation? Somehow the paintings made the people look more interesting than usual. But as for paintings, I'd just walked through the 80s and 90s of Paludino, Clemente, Cucchi, Schnabel, Basquiat and a few others and really enjoyed all that painterly excitement and weirdness. Rather that than Rothko any day. Then on into the Cildo Meireles show, which was excitement on a non-painterly level. The amazing huge maze, walking on cracked uneven glass around barriers, including barbed wire and shower curtains, barriers you can see but not walk through, to get to a huge ball of clear plastic in the centre... Dangerous and wonderful. & wonderful that kids were exploring it without nanny worrying that they might fall on the uneven glass floor and impale themselves on the barbed wire. And next to it the huge pit of shiny copper coins, and you look up at the strange curves of the roof above it and discover the curves are bones. Bones, and money. Looking through the exhibition booklet I now discover that I only saw half of the exhibition, and thought I'd seen it all, so I have to go back.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Back in London

Your first milonga in London after you get back from BsAs is going to be a busy one. Word gets around. Everyone wants to ask about it, to dance with you. It was great to see lots of familiar faces, dance with friends for a change. & it's fun to be a bit of a celebrity for an evening.

But you can't dance all the time, so you sit down and watch the dancing. & if, like me, you watched a lot of dancing in Buenos Aires, you suddenly start to wonder about this strange activity you are looking at. It has characteristics in common with the tango you're used to, but in many ways it is quite different. For a start, most of it isn't close-hold, and then it concentrates on decoration and elaboration, it's jumpy, with a lot of stiff left-arm movement from the leaders, it's a bit crab-like, and there's little obvious connection to the music. You suspect they'd dance the same dance whatever the music.

Well, it's easy to look back and think that what you saw on your holidays was so much better... So I spent a hard hour working my way through YouTube videos of BsAs milongas. Someone has to do it. Most are badly filmed, the camera hiding behind the bottles on a table, but three are OK. So this is the social dance called tango you see in Buenos Aires.

First, and why not, Porteno y Bailarin. I gather there are a few visitors in this one, but there are also a number of locals I recognise. Anyway, this is what it looks like.

I've just spotted something. Watch out for the guy with long hair, white shirt, white pants in the first dance, the vals: that's José Garofalo minus heels.

& now Cachirula, a popular Saturday night milonga at Maipu 444. It looks quite empty, so I'd imagine this is around 3am, but at least you can see how they dance. &, yes, that's Tete at the beginning: watch his muscular turns.

Come to think of it, the dancing looks a bit 3am-ish. That rather unsympathetic lighting isn't unusual. & how many Ocho Cortados did you spot?

Finally, a short expressionistic clip of El Beso. Note the guy in front of you delighted to get the dance he's wanted all evening. Or maybe it's a football score, but I think not. He goes off towards the women's tables.

Have a good look, and compare what you see with... Well, any milonga you care to name in London. What are the essential differences? Which do you prefer? &, if you prefer the BsAs dancing, either to look at or as a way of dancing, is there anything we can do to change things in London? Answers in no more than 100 pages please. Or has London gone too far down the wrong path?

I felt that London dancing looks like clever and capable kids imitating stage tango, and the BsAs dance looks like adults dancing together. No hate mail, please. By and large, we're taught by show dancers here, so we ape them, it's all we know. There aren't that many Buenos Aires dancers who teach their own dance even in Buenos Aires, and they rarely come to London. They tour the US and they visit Italy, but not London.

I must make an honourable exception: Paul and Michiko were dancing on Friday night, and their dance was instantly familiar: upright, musical, tender. Technically the BsAs dance isn't difficult, but it means connecting with a partner and the music. Which can be more of a challenge than linear boleos combined with back ganchos.

Friday, 9 January 2009

La Notte

I knew I'd once seen an Antonioni film that convinced me he was a great director: I just couldn't find what it was. L'Aventura was lethargic and poorly shot, Blowup a right pain, and some late soft-core porn tedious. Then I rented La Notte. Definitely the one.

Of course, that extraordinary performance from Jeanne Moreau. Beyond that, the film itself looks amazing. A master cinematographer's work in black and white, the darks rich, the lights textured, and still room for wonderful greys. (Gianni di Venanzo, who shot Fellinis's 8 ½, but died young a year or so later.) No soundtrack, just the sound of what is happening: revolutionary for 1961, and it gives a great sense of space. You listen. And an adult script in the right sense, in story and dialogue. A couple visit a friend dying of cancer. They go home. She goes out walking round the city, calls him to pick her up from a location where they first lived together. They go out to eat. They go on to a party. Mastroianni gets attracted by a younger girl, Moreau tries to have an affair and fails. She calls the hospital: their friend has died. They walk into the gardens. She tells him the friend has died, and that she no longer loves him: so this is what was going on behind the Moreau face all through the film. The camera pulls back from a couple rolling in their best clothes in a sandpit. Extraordinary.

L'Eclisse, the third in the trilogy, is yet to come.