Thursday, 30 April 2009

Tete and Silvia in Paris

In case anyone within reach of Paris hasn't seen this...

Tete Rusconi and Silvia Ceriani, legendary teachers of the tango of the 'Golden Age' in Buenos Aires, will be teaching in Paris next month.

Thursday 14 May
Beginners, 19.30 to 21.00.
Intermediate and advanced: 21.00 to 22.30: how to differentiate vals from tango sequences, rhythm, movement around the dance floor. This workshop will begin with tango and then move on to vals.

Saturday 16 May
Beginners, 14 to 15.30: vals workshop.
All levels, 15.30 to 18.00. Supervised practica with Tete and Silvia. This will include teaching on floorcraft, as well as on dancing to different orchestras.

Sunday 17 May
Intermediate and advanced, 11.15 to 12.45. Changes of direction and turns in salon tango.
All levels, 12.45 to 14.15. Combining simple sequences, the importance of pauses.

Monday 18 May
Intermediate and advanced 19.30 to 21.00, continuation of vals. Combined sequences and turns in time to the music.
21.01 milonga, during which there will be a demonstration.

Speaking a bit of French will be helpful, but Silvia speaks excellent English, and language won't be a problem.
Contact Nathalie Clouet (who also speaks English) by email at or phone +33 01 40 18 09 18. Booking essential, from Tuesday 28 April onwards. All sessions €15 per person, except for the supervised practica, which is €8. Nathalie promises that if you are on your own you will be paired up. Further information here.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

El Sur

Fernando E Solanas went into exile in Paris in 1976, and returned to Buenos Aires when democracy was restored in 1983. He wrote and directed two films, as far as I can find out, based in tango. Tangos: Exilio de Gardel (1985) has Piazolla's Tanguedia as a score, and the film is about an Argentine theatre and dance group in exile in Paris: it's serious and entertaining too. Piazolla provided incidental music for Sur (1988). Sur is a very dark film, quite literally. It takes place almost entirely at night, and out of doors. The streets are cold and windy: it's often raining. For most of the film we are denied the comfort of interiors. Everyone is bundled up in sweaters and coats. Darkness, shafts of light, mists, appearances, disappearances, occasionally a group of playful children in the darkness. The few scenes of daylight are overcast, muted. & it's a long film.

Floreal has been arrested and imprisoned. On his release after five years he goes to his apartment to be reunited with his wife and child, and raps on the shutters. It is night-time. She wakes up and knows immediately it is him, throws on a coat and rushes out into the street, calls out after him. But he has gone. Perhaps he knows it is possible she isn't alone (although she is), perhaps his return is too sudden. His night is a journey in the streets, reliving in flashback his past as a prisoner of the military, in the company of an old friend who we know is dead, casually shot by the military as they loot someone's apartment (not unusual apparently). Through his dead friend he learns what happened during his imprisonment. On the pavement outside the Cafe Sur (which is closed) and elsewhere, is a tango group, singer Roberto Goyaneche with Nestor Marconi on bandoneon. Out in the street, in the darkness, the wind and rain, they make music, and their songs structure the film. Finally it is dawn. Floreal makes his way home, ready to meet up with his wife, who awaits him.

Not tourist-board Buenos Aires or the city of nice tango tours and holidays, but I guess it's a distillation of the memories of anyone over 40 you meet there. Not a time anyone wants to recall, but Solanas made an extraordinarily imaginative epic out of it. His choices of story and setting must define an era, the cold, the night, the dislocations of people's lives. & of course the story is the archetypal journey through the underworld, of the hero who confronts demons to become whole again. Solanas creates Fellini-esque dream-like scenes, but avoids Fellini's sentimental humour. He's a committed political film-maker, but the film isn't a political tract: it's poetic from start to finish. Essentially it's a film about love: 'I return to the south/as one always returns to love/I return to you/with my longing, my anxiety' as the final song says (Vuelvo al Sur, lyrics by Solanas, music by Piazolla). & it is full of tango music (but no dance). Goyaneche's powerful, expressive voice and Marconi's bandoneon, the songs of Anibal Troilo. The music is amazing. Intense feelings pour out of it and saturate the film, the reassuring voice of tango in a very hard time.

It's astonishingly difficult to get hold of: my understanding of the film is very limited since I saw it dubbed into German, which was somewhat bizarre, on a friend's VHS cassette recorded from German TV. These two films of Solanas must be two of the great films of the 20th century, and yet are hardly available. There's a very expensive 2-DVD box set from a very small distributor, and Sur seems to have become available recently on file-sharing sites: I've no understanding of the legality of this (tho' I can guess), but I'm delighted if it makes a rare and great film more easily available. But we are lucky: the beginning and the end are on YouTube, with several songs from Goyaneche. Well worth watching and listening to.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Lost in translation

...not the film but a cultural import, tango, and its social background. If we hang out with good dancers, listen to the music and let it carry us along we can begin to dance good tango. But how much of the social background do we need? Do we need to play tangos in tandas of three? Do we need cortinas between tandas? I think regular use of cortinas is recent in London tango. In Buenos Aires it is general practice to dance no more than three consecutive tangos with any one partner, and cortinas are a sign to clear the floor: your time's up. But here it seems discourteous to abandon a partner after two or three dances; a good conversation should last a bit longer than 10 minutes. So cortinas aren't so useful here, although they are still a good way to change the sound a bit, refresh the ears, since most tangos have similar characteristics, and they also help dancers to mix more widely. But the convention of everyone going back to their seats after three tangos doesn't suit us, it's not a part of the social background we need.

But there is one part of the social background I really miss: empanadas. When you go to a milonga in Buenos Aires you settle in for more than a quick evening out, so you need to eat, and empanadas and toasted sandwiches are always available. How can you dance if you are hungry? Drinking without eating isn't such a great idea – especially if you are dancing. You meet your friends, enjoy food and a drink with them, and dance. Of course the social background is different: in the Mediterranean tradition the main meal tends to be lunch, and people snack in the evening. & of course our milongas don't usually run late. However, it is just possible that people would want to stay later if good snacks were available. You tend to settle in if there's food and drink, and night transport and arriving home late might seem a little more bearable.

Friday, 24 April 2009


Every film Kiarostami makes is different, inventive. Life and Nothing More, in which a young Iranian meets a beautiful girl, claims to be a well-known Iranian film-maker, gets carried away by his fiction and ends up in court before a judge: a true story. Kiarostami persuaded everyone in the story, the judge included, to re-enact what they said and did, and makes a film out of it. Ten, made up of material filmed with two cameras in an Iranian woman's car as she drives around, picks up her son, meets her friends. One thing they all have in common: you can't find a better way to see what life in Iran is like.

& then Five is different again. Five long takes is the full title. & that's what the film is. No plot, nothing acted, framed and edited with movie-director skill. & it's very refreshing. We watch, and almost nothing happens. At dawn a pack of dogs wakes at the water's edge. We watch for 15 or 20 minutes. One dog moves a few metres. One by one the others follow. That's it. The camera is set up on a promenade: people walk by, stop and talk, walk on. It's as if he gives us space to reflect, dream, just as we do in real life. All except for the fifth 'take' which he himself admits (there's an interview in the Extras) was compiled from a number of occasions. In effect it isn't a single take, and it shows: it feels contrived. The moon is shining on the water, corkscrewed by ripples. Clouds pass over. Frogs croak. Thunder and a rainstorm. Dogs bark. Then cocks crow: it starts to get light. Strangely enough, too much seems to be happening, as if we've become very convinced by nothing much happening. When it gets light, it gets light, from darkness to visibility, in three or four minutes. It feels wrong! Nothing at all about life in Iran, but definitely different.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Now showing in my garden...

Same time as last year and the year before... No surprises there.

Cox's orange,

morello cherry and

lilac and clematis.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

You Made me a Monster

William Forsythe again. We are invited on stage at Sadler's Wells, in groups, round tables on which card models of skeletons are joined up in non-sense, grotesque ways, and asked to contribute to the distortion of that symbol of death. The story of the slow death from cancer of Forsythe's wife, by all accounts a remarkable dancer, is projected on the screen. Three dancers appear, and dance out the agony, taking visual cues from the grotesque distortions we have assisted in creating. Their cries are distorted, amplified, protracted electronically.

Obviously a difficult piece but I'm uneasy about the three energetic, young, healthy bodies of the dancers mimicking the agonies of a body racked by cancer. It seemed excessive: it seemed like elaborating and mimicking, hardly re-enacting. Of the three the woman was the most effective, but the piece relates to a woman. I could only think that only one person could really dance this piece. Perhaps one woman since it is about a woman. Or perhaps Forsythe himself, whose experience it is, with just the one, the original, card skeleton that he says set the piece in motion. But it is a scary, challenging piece of theatre.

How can art deal with grief, loss, chaos? The piece seemed too close to trying to depict appearances, suffering, grief, chaos, when what we need, and expect, is resolution, a way of relating to suffering, grief, chaos. But perhaps that grief is irresolute. Perhaps the howling and contortions are cathartic, an exorcism.

A parallel suggested itself with Claire Denis's film L'Intrus, based on the brief study by French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy of his experience of a heart transplant, and subsequent cancer caused by anti-rejection drugs, two 'intruders' into his body, that suggested to him a whole study of the intruder, the 'other', the foreign, in society. L'Intrus is extremely beautiful, thoughtful, and quite mysterious too. But then it isn't about grief, bereavement, about the anger of loss: it is about intrusion. & Jean-Luc Nancy is still alive.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Untied shoelaces

The untied shoelace is a recurrent tango nightmare. It is usually noticed early in a particularly intimate dance with a favourite partner, to the greatest music. The man (and it usually is a man, for somewhat obvious reasons) wonders whether to risk the terminal embarrassment of a bad fall – or apologise and meekly bow down to retie the offender.

It turns out that this predicament hasn't escaped the notice of sociologists. Norbert Elias, retired after a distinguished career, wandered around Europe with an untied shoelace, noting the differing responses it got. Press here for the full article. 'Norbert Elias likened networks of interdependent human beings —'figurations' as he named them, hence the term figurational studies — to a dance: in constant flux, yet structured.' (Structured? I wish.)

Monday, 20 April 2009

'El Flaco' Dani at Porteno y Bailarin

Strange that I've come across a number of older-generation teachers and dancers since I left Buenos Aires in December! A few of them are still travelling, but it's hard to find the schedules of the less commercialised teachers. It looks as if I'll just have to tangocommute across the Atlantic again.

'El Flaco' Dani was someone I came across in February, and I suddenly realised I'd seen him at Porteno y Bailarin every night I was there. He'd come in looking, for some reason, as if he'd been swimming all afternoon, very healthy and active, and happy to meet up with his mates for another great night out. I only saw him dance once, and that was during a show organised by Carlos Stasi. The star attraction was Miguel Zotto, and there were two singers as well. I filmed Zotto, but just two days ago I discovered I had filmed the whole show, and it was a real pleasure to discover this video of 'El Flaco' with Silvina Valz. He has the reputation for the fastest feet in Buenos Aires when it comes to milonga, and I've enjoyed watching clips of his dance. He also has the most effortlessly straight back. Needless to say, he's visited and taught in Europe but not London as far as I know, and whether he comes again is another matter. After all, I understand he's 72 now...

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Rodolfo Mederos

Great! Two recent films on how the musical tradition is being continued: Si Sos Brujo with Emilio Balcarce, and El Ultima Bandoneón with Rodolfo Mederos, as well as A Different Way: Tango with Rodolfo Mederos. Thanks for all the info, Jantango and Simba. I see that El Otro Camino - Tango con Rodolfo Mederos is available from Amazon, but it is expensive.

'Were Bach to be born again he would surely be a bandoneon player' (Rodopho Mederos).

The music is well served... is there no film about the dance? What can you show? Video and dance go well together, but traditional tango is curious, much more an intimate, inter-personal experience, effectively much less visual. I guess it is possible to make a drama out of learning with some of the older teachers, but it might be hard to make a drama out of something so intimate, the 'feeling that is danced'. Wouldn't it?

Here's seven minutes of intimate, personal music: Rodolfo Mederos playing solo. I couldn't take my eyes or my ears off it. He played with Pugliese and Piazolla, and more recently with Daniel Barenboim in Tangos among Friends.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Bandoneóns for sale

Thanks to Jantango for the reference to the article about the shortage of bandoneóns: it is here.

I said that the Arnold family 'continued limited production' after fleeing to the West: in fact they only tuned and sold instruments, so there were no new instruments after 1950. The full article from Todotango is here.

The film, El último bandoneón, is on DVD but not in a PAL version, and so not available in the UK. It is available through the US and could be shipped to the UK, but it's not that cheap. If anyone sees it and recommends it, I'd be glad to hear. If there's good footage of the older generation of dancers, I'd be interested.


Many thanks to David Bailey and Ghost for organising the practica last night. There are plenty of milongas in London and too few practicas, but practicas are really valuable, places where friends and guests can get together and learn from each other. & the place, The Room, in Walthamstow is ideal. A good space, good floor, good lighting and a huge collection of tango CDs! I hope this was the first of many, and look forward to being back there.

Apologies for leaving fast: it's called Tangocommuting in Action. I get anxious about my last train, and didn't realise how quick the trip into central London is.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

The Last Bandoneón

A few films involving tango have been made recently: I've seen two, but there are others I know just from YouTube. El último bandoneón (2005) looks interesting from some good clips on YouTube. It features a young musician, Marina Gayotto (a student of Joaquín Amenábar, among others) who makes a living with her bandoneón busking on the buses and subway in Buenos Aires. She auditions for the orchestra of Rodolfo Mederas. She plays well, but they see her struggling with a difficult instrument: they open up her bandoneón and see it is completely shot, the bellows, the keyboard, the valves, the reeds... everything. Moreover it is held together with string where she's repaired it. Impressed by her playing on a virtually useless instrument they offer her the job – so long as she gets hold of an AA bandoneón. The film follows her through the tango world of Buenos Aires, meeting the musicians and dancers, searching for an instrument. You can't tell from the clips how much dance is shown, but it is all 'milonguero': no names are given, but the dancers have obviously been around for a few years, and look really excellent. Dancers and musicians talk about themselves and their lives. Geraldine and Javier feature too, awestruck by an older couple. In the end, of course, she gets her bandoneón and all is well.

The AA or 'doble A' is the Strad of the bandoneón world, named after the Alfred Arnold bandoneón company. AAs were played by everyone, Troilo, Piazolla of course, but the company was on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall and was appropriated and turned into a diesel engine workshop. The last of the Arnold family fled to the west, and the company continued limited production until his death in 1971. That accounts for the poignancy of the film's title: there's a limited number of good quality bandoneóns available. I read recently (in El Tangauta, I think) that laws are proposed, or have been implemented, to prevent the export of bandoneóns from Argentina: tourists pay more than musicians. A few contemporary instrument makers are trying to match the quality of the 'doble A'.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

London Tango Festival

On 21 March, under the heading 'Alberto Dassieu', I posted some dreams of a London tango festival. I called it the first London tango festival because it would be the first festival of the traditional tango of Buenos Aires. I'd been frustrated in efforts to arrange a visit to London for Tete and Silvia on their tour of Europe this spring; one London organiser was very sympathetic, but told me 'It's not the kind of tango people want here'. &, to be fair, it was rather short notice. I started to notice how many traditional teachers visit Europe regularly – but never England. True, they are no longer young and perhaps never were acrobatic or glamorous, but they each have 50-odd years experience of tango!

It was only a wishful dream, so I was very gratified that it interested several people. Many thanks, Sabailar and MsH, for your enthusiasm and kind comments. I thought it would be a good idea to repeat the original post under this heading, and to dig out the main comments from the bottom of a long list and put them alongside, so we know where we are. I've added some (I hope) more practical thoughts at the end.

If anyone else is interested, has any ideas or suggestions, please post comments, or email me. Something on this scale would be difficult without a lot of money, but if there is interest we might be able to manage something smaller.

- - - - -
“I'm planning the first London Tango Festival. The star attraction won't be the choreographer of a Broadway show, but probably Tete and his partner Silvia. We'll have, I hope, Facundo and Kely, and Dany 'El Flaco' Garcia with Silvina Vals, to teach milonga. We'll invite Ana Schapira and her partner; we'll invite Myriam Pincen and Alicia Pons, Rubén de Pompeya and Miguel Balbi. And Alberto Dassieu and his wife Paulina Spinoso. Those are the main stars: there will be others. We'll invite a few orchestras, take over Wild Court for two weeks, have endless workshops and milongas, and perhaps readjust London tango. All we need now is about £30,000.”

Sabailar said...
I ... would love your festival idea to become reality. What a joy it would be to attend and to think of the effect it could have on the London tango scene.

Everyone talks about how London isn't ready for this and all we want is flashy show tango, but surely it isn't just me who got over being impressed and now finds this a little boring and disappointing. I know it isn't just me.

I find the fact that Amanda and Adrian Costa's classes are so well attended when they are here encouraging - surely this shows that we do want basic technique and floor craft.

So if you need cheering on to keep the idea alive, I'm cheering. And happy to help if it comes to it.

msHedgehog said...
I think your dream is beautiful, and Sabailar is correct. That's why I think it's worthwhile to make attempts to raise expectations. And also why I asked the question - because money and lawyers are to be had for such things if there's a feasible business plan. (I've already been asked to volunteer for a festival later this year and I got the impression that the idea was along the same lines as yours, but I don't remember the details and I think it was at an early stage).
- - - - -

Some random thoughts: I like the idea of 'a festival' (as against 'several teachers visiting in a short time') as it gives a bit of focus for publicity, if nothing else. Getting two couples here for five or six days each, for programmes of workshops, and preferably without too much of a break between the visits. The programme for Tete and Silvia in Paris is just coming in: five days, two workshops a day, with a long supervised practica on Saturday afternoon and a closing milonga with a demonstration on Monday evening.

April – May is when the annual migration starts. This year between April and May Tete and Silvia are teaching in Italy, France and Germany, and Alberto Dassieu is in Switzerland in May. If we'd started this nine months ago, we might have been able to get them all in London around the same time.

The costs might not be prohibitive if the trips to the UK are included in a wider tour and if accommodation can be arranged with friends. I've no experience of this, but I gather it usually can be. A venue for workshops is necessary. With sufficient advanced notice, classes and demos can also be arranged at the regular venues.

Problems like other big local tango events can be avoided. Visits by the likes of Pablo Veron and Miguel Zotto are more difficult, as they seem to arrive at a moment's notice and claim everyone's attention. Legal problems (immigration, work permits) are serious but I'm told they can be dealt with. I'd assume that a one-off consultation with an expert in the field would be necessary, but that once the system is understood it would not be a recurring cost. But that might be wishful thinking too.

Monday, 13 April 2009

BM again

A room guide in the BM sticks in my mind, but not in much detail. By the late Bronze Age in the Levant, cities had developed and prospered on trade. However, with a collapse of power in Egypt, this trade ceased and the entire area went into a profound recession. Cities could no longer support their populations, and people were dispersed. Many died.

Looking further into it, there was a widespread disintegration of Eastern Mediterranean civilization at the end of the late Bronze Age (late thirteenth and twelfth centuries B.C.), which has also been blamed on the irruption of new peoples into this area, and on climatic change affecting agricultural output.

The combination of concepts – trade decline, recession, climate change, was familiar, and the vulnerability of cities, of the specialised lives they require, is underlined.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

A good evening at the Crypt

A Paul and Michiko night, not as crowded as I expected although it was Bank Holiday weekend. Talked with El Milonguero Terry about the dynamics of evenings: how one can be pleasant and another difficult. This was a good one: not too many people, some of the best London dancers, and anyway it was a wedding reception, cake, champagne and all. The bridegroom an Argentine tango singer living in London, generous and friendly -- but then I said he was Argentine. He sang a vals for us while dancing with his bride. Not so many of the partners I usually dance with, but some I hadn't seen for a while, since I haven't been to the Crypt for nearly five months: very enjoyable.

BM on Sunday morning: not the best time for the BM. The Egyptian paintings, more fragmentary than I'd assumed, but still marvelous. The clear ochre line, the precise drawing. Such a wholehearted celebration of the fullness of life it takes your breath away to remember that they are actually from a tomb. Remembering the best bits of life, and like a prayer that the afterlife should have all the best bits. I note that the flute player alongside the dancing girls is frontal: everyone else is profile.

Photography grows – and grows. Wonderful that everyone and their granny was taking/making photos in the BM. The Rosetta Stone like Madonna surrounded by paparazzi. Ways to remember, be reminded.

Art and death: the earliest portraits I know of are the encaustic Egyptian tomb paintings, 5th century AD I think, predating European portraits by 1,000 years. Painted for a death, for remembrance, absence. I never believe talk of the death of anything, tango included, remembering talk of the 'death of painting' some years ago. I saw an exhibition of paintings by Dutch/South African painter Marlene Dumas recently. Each painting recalled something that was supposed to have died: the death of painting, the death of the author, the dead poet, death of the maiden, the death of history ... the list went on... and on. It was at the same time macabre and funny. I enjoyed the paintings, especially 'The Death of Painting'. The 'death of tango' didn't figure but it could have done.

Famous dancing girls in the tomb paintings, and I'd never seen so clearly the Nereids are dancers too, their movement carried out into the space around them by their flowing garments. Weightless, and in marble.

Gandhi statue framed
by flowering cherry
planted for Hiroshima.

Return in a gray-green landscape, white splashes of hawthorne.

Saturday, 11 April 2009


Thanks to MsH for reminding us of Amster's blog. I read a bit of it a while back but his account of Muma's class is more recent.

Muma is another dancer who grew up with traditional tango: she has taught in the US, but not yet in Europe. Muma gives this teaching on posture, which is invaluable advice: if you don't get this right, dancing close-hold is problematic. Roughly speaking, stretch up and yawn, then keep the back and chest still while lowering the arms and you will be in the posture of any of those great milongueros and milongueras. But staying there is the problem. It feels stiff and unnatural if, like me, you grew up with bad posture. & no need to restrict it to dancing: the muscles will get used to it if you remember while out walking.

I also checked out Muma's website a while back: it's fairly basic, but has some videos, of which this is one. I immediately noticed the timing of her feet: there's almost a sense of laziness, she's totally unhurried but always manages to step at exactly the right moment. She's never rushed, it looks easy and well-controlled. By contrast her partner, Carlos Rojas, seems to be working quite hard...

It forms an interesting contrast with the video of Alberto Dassieu I linked a few weeks back, two D'Arienzo vals danced by top 'milonguero' couples. Alberto charges round the room like a force of nature, Carlos Rojas and Muma dance very much on the spot, a dance of turns rather than walks, though Alberto's turns are spectacular. His partner, Elba Biscay, almost literally drags her feet. I think these videos show that 'milonguero' tango can be exciting to watch. I can watch them over and over and still enjoy them and learn from them.

Here's a neat milonga from Muma, dancing with Dany 'El Flaco' Garcia.

I will, of course, invite Muma to my London Tango Festival too. In the mean time she's certainly one of the dance teachers to look up if you are ever in Buenos Aires. (Which might be sooner.)

There seems to be a long list of dancers who never come to London: we could add Javier and Andrea, who are regularly in Europe – but not London. Is it just my impression that London is a bit of a tango backwater?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Tango and strut

'Strut your stuff' is an Anglo-American synonym for 'dance': dance = display. Which, of course, dance always has been, on some level.

There was a fascinating piece of research, promoted on the Today programme last year. The professor, an ex-professional dancer, divided dance into categories of big, medium and small movements, combined with simple, medium and complex gestures. He filmed men dancing disco-type individual dance and asked women to evaluate them. Big or small movements? Simple or complex gestures? The overwhelming favourite was a complex dance of small movements.

There's always been display in tango. Dance competitions were common. Then as now people enjoyed watching. Copes realised that this tradition of display tango could be choreographed and performed in shows, resulting in his shows in the 1970s and 80s. His hero was Gene Kelly. In 1984, he managed to arrange a booking for three weeks in Paris. The story is that they couldn't afford the air tickets to Paris but someone had connections with the military, and they were taken on board a military transport, alongside an Exocet missile that had failed to go off during the war over the islands, and was being returned to France for repair. Their three weeks in Paris turned into six months and led straight to Broadway, and Gene Kelly wanted to meet Copes. Tango the display, the stage dance, was suddenly popular. Europeans and Americans wanted to learn it, and its popularity began to revive in Buenos Aires.

But of course in Buenos Aires it wasn't the choreographed stage dance of big gestures that was enjoyed in crowded dance halls, it was the traditional dance, a dance of small movements, its complexity limited only by the improvisational skills of the partners. It wasn't intended to be watched, it was an intimate meeting with a partner and the music, in a space shared on equal terms with many other couples, and regulated quite strictly by the protective social traditions of the milonga.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Orquesta Escuela

If you want to listen to the Orquesta Escuela, better to go here. The concert footage is great, but the sound isn't wonderful. In the past month Varchausky's association, Tangovia, has uploaded many clips of concert footage onto YouTube, and a few of historic film, including this magical film of the Orquesta Francini-Pontier in Japan. For emotional and musical clarity it can hardly be equalled. The orquesta split up in the mid-1950s. Enrique Francini was a marvellous violinist: can't help thinking he would have been equally at home in the Mendelssohn violin concerto.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Si Sos Brujo

Si Sos Brujo, 'if you know magic', is a tango composed by Emilio Balcarce, and it's what bassist Ignacio Varchausky was told when he said he wanted to establish a tango orchestra that could bring the surviving musicians who had played with Troilo, D'Arienzo, Pugliese, Gobbi, to teach the younger generation. You can do it – si sos brujo. Si Sos Brujo is also the name of a great film by Varchausky's wife, American filmmaker Caroline Neal, about how the Orquesta Escuelo de Tango was born. There are interviews with her here.

Varchausky makes the problem clear. They had the records, they had the music on paper, but that's not how the musicians learned to play, and it would be incredibly laborious, and perhaps not very fruitful, simply to copy the music from records. In the 30s and 40s there were many orquestas where musicians learned first-hand how to phrase the music, make the sounds, hear how to be part of an ensemble. But in the 50s the big bands, both in American jazz and in tango, seemed outdated. Even Troilo downsized. Apart from Pugliese, perhaps, there were no longer orquestas where newcomers could learn – and Pugliese wasn't much help since the same musicians stayed with him. Slowly the orquestas tipicas died away, and their leaders died too. But, by 2000, when Varchausky got funding for the first year of the orquesta escuelo, there were musicians still alive to sit in with the young players, give masterclasses, play alongside them. & Emilio Balcarce, bandoneonista, violinista, composer and arranger, who played with many orquestas and for many years arranged for and played with Pugliese, and is very much the star of the film, became its director. He retired two years ago, aged 89. There's a posting on his final concert here.

With the help of musicians from the Golden Age, the orquesta learned how to recreate the sounds of the older orquestas, creating a very complete record of tango music for future generations. They learned how to play accurately in the styles of Troilo, Pugliese, D'Arienzo. But they are far more than a glorified tribute band. Their music is immediately distinctive: having learnt directly from older musicians they are highly proficient and their ensemble playing is striking, they've learned the music from inside. But they also bring their contemporary sensibility to what they play. Balcarce himself remarks on the distinctive energy of their music, which he relates to the feel of contemporary Buenos Aires. If they had simply copied the old records, they wouldn't have learned to play like this.

And it's a great film to watch, beautifully shot, beautifully put together, and a real insight into the world of tango music. It's always a pleasure for me to watch musicians at work, and it's just great to watch the older generations sitting with younger players and showing them how to play the music. & always a pleasure to listen to, too. Si Sos Brujo. You don't have to know magic to get hold of it. This is the trailer.

I can't help adding this, in case you've never heard what is now called the Orquesta Escuela de Tango Emilio Balcarce.