Wednesday, 21 July 2010

RIP nuevo

There's a contagious idea going around: prophets of doom, Cherie, Irene and Man Yung, then London Tango, one after the other, all proclaim the imminent demise of 'tango nuevo'! (Sighs of relief all round!) I seem to be the last to catch it, but maybe someone will catch it from me. After all, it's such a good idea!

Some years ago it was pointed out that there's no room for it on most dance floors, and thus the End of Nuevo is nigh. Not always true, but tango actually feels best in big close groups, like our Tango al Fresco in London. If you dance at arm's length from the friend you're dancing with, and at leg's length from the nearest couple, you are very close to dancing completely on your own, and how long is that satisfying?

A few weeks back I visited the big Monday-night practica in North London: a friend I'd met in Buenos Aires was passing through London, and of course we wanted to resume our dancing. She'd learned in all the best places in Germany and has enjoyed tango wherever she's been which, since she's a non-tenured academic, is all over Europe. It was literally a heart-warming experience to renew our friendship over some good old tracks that were such a pleasure to dance to. But pause a moment, and look around. Milena Plebs had taught the class so there were a lot of people there, and it was mainly tango at arms' and legs' length. A strange disengaged, abstract, cold, detached (literally) sensation; there's something cerebral about it, as if the dancers are really wrapped up in some kind of puzzle, cleverly remembering fragments of choreographies, and assembling them, and remembering the appropriate responses to the lead. I cried for the cheerful ringing laughter of the late Ricardo Vidort. Or the passionate musicality of the late Tete Rusconi. Sin miedo! Sin pensamiento! Without fear! Without thinking!

Pablo Veron commented a year or two ago that 'tango nuevo' is doubly a misnomer: it's the name coined by Piazzolla to describe his kind of music, and moreover there's nothing new in the dance itself, which goes back to dance halls of the 1930s and 1940s. It's all old tango, its elements are tango history. In its city of origin the usual term for this kind of dance is 'tango fantasia': something that happens away from the crowded reality of the dance floor, tango for the stage. I can enjoy it if it's done with passion and musicality, and with a strong sense of the close-hold emotional commitment. Look at Javier and Geraldine when they were young and together: it's a wild and breathtaking dance, although I think they'd call it salon, but nothing like the fingertips-only-and-look-how-clever-we-are-dancing-tango dance that's the worst side of London tango.

Chicho Frumboli loudly proclaimed last winter that he had ruined tango with his experiments; that THE EMBRACE was what really mattered. I checked out some recent videos of him: well, poor guy if he thinks that's an embrace! And he even looks bored. Well, maybe he was; maybe he was thinking 'I'm Chicho so I've got to teach this stuff and dance it, but really, my dear, I just want to hold you close and dance properly!' I hope he'll shock everyone and do it soon!

So is 'tango nuevo' dead or dying? It's less popular on the continent than in London, and my guess is that its day here has passed. Europeans dance close, and do it well, and I think nuevo, or fantasia, will begin to feel to dancers how it looks to outsiders: arid, lacking emotional pleasure in its core. They don't really look as if they're enjoying it, so how can it survive? Dancers will split off into jive and salsa, which can be enjoyed very readily, and into salon/milonguero tango. Of course a few gifted dancers will continue to amaze us with 'extreme tango', and the 'n' word will be long forgotten. Eso espero!


scw said...

O my friend, I agree with everything that you say. I really hope that the circus is comming to an end and that people will start to realise what dancing tango socially is all about. Like you, I miss that ''other'' element of dancing with other couples on the floor, that are there to dance with us!

Simba said...

I'll believe it when I see it. There are signs that the tides are turning here, too, though, so it will be interesting to see.

BTW, I think Javier & Geraldine would call their shows 'fantasia'. I never had anything against fantasia myself, as long as it is well done and not on the social dance floor. The problem is show moves poorly executed in shows and at all on the pista IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Live and let live...'Nuevo' tango dancers have been hammered by the 'trads' recently,but the problem is where they dance! I have seen good 'nuevo' dancers in Buenos Aires,but they were in a milonga with plenty of room,dancing to modern music.I enjoyed the evening,but if they danced this way in a traditional milonga...

Tangocommuter said...

Welcome, scw, and thanks, and thanks, Simba and anon.

You know, I'd rather watch fantasia danced badly if there's a real connection between the dancers: much better than technically brilliant dance with no connection, as that makes no sense, it's insincere posturing. Geraldine and Javier danced their hearts out, and they were technically amazing too.

I think there's been a bit of a tango craze over the last few years, and it won't last forever. Most of the teachers who come to London were dancers or gymnasts from a young age, and unless you can take the technical side in your stride, as they can, and make sense of the music too, I don't think you can really enjoy or bring any warmth to the dance. & if you don't really enjoy it, the drop-out rate will be high. If you want to enjoy a lively evening out there might be easier ways than tango nuevo! Almost all the resident London teachers teach salon, and there are good teachers here. I hope plenty of the tango-boppers will find their way into good social dancing. & I think close embrace is becoming more normal, too.

Fantasists find their way into the trad milongas in Buenos Aires too. One night at Porteno y Bailarin a very large guy who's a regular there suddenly started to shout very loudly at a nuevo couple kicking their way round the floor behind him. The nuevo guy started to shout back and for a moment I really thought there was going to be a brawl. Then the regular's friends, also quite large, stood up, and the fantasists slipped away. He'd been kicked four times, I heard, and totally lost his cool. & a friend told me that one night at El Beso a nuevo couple took to the floor, at which the milonguero element surrounded them and, without losing the compas, simply danced the intruders off the floor. Floorcraft!

David Bailey said...

I think tango nuevo is a nice dance form. But I think you simply can't have a harmonious mix-and-match atmosphere.

To me, tango nuevo is a circular, non-progressive dance; or at least, it's heading in that direction. Trying to mix a non-progressive dance and a progressive one in the same floor is a bit of a recipe for disaster. The surprising thing is that we can do it at all.

So I think a solution is to have more separation and more definition of the two. At the moment, people think it's acceptable to dance nuevo in a traditional venue - and, really, it's not.

I also don't think it's helpful to sneer at Nuevo or call it "not real dancing" - to me, there's as many technical challenges, and as much opportunity for development, in nuevo as in trad; it's just development of different areas. Less connection, maybe, but more control. Less feel, maybe, but more fun. Less musicality, maybe, but more technique. And so on.

Tangocommuter said...

Hi David, and thanks for the comments. I should have added a question mark to the title. It's a bit late now, but I didn't mean to suggest that there's no future for 'nuevo': I was just wondering myself where it was headed.

& I wasn't sneering, and I certainly didn't say it's 'not real dancing'. I'd just been to an evening that was mainly nuevo, and I was trying to think through my reactions to what I saw and felt. I admit, of course, that I'm biased in favour of 'milonguero', and judge everything by that standard. But I still think that what I saw is a dance craze called tango and that, since it lacks a real heart, it won't go on in that form for long.

A real heart? Really importantly, I think that the music is quite alien to many of the dancers. It's just not in their background, and in effect tango music is used as a background to the dance, not as actually part of the dance. Being able to get that close to the music is something that very few of us will ever do. I can recognise it in 'milongueros' I've watched, and in some Europeans, but it's hardly something you can learn in the way that you can learn steps.

I find the possibilities of movement between two humans quite fascinating, movement and counter-movement, the synergies between two people on a dance floor, but I can't help thinking that tango music isn't the most familiar kind of music to practise that to. I wish I had time and energy to explore the whole field of contact improvisation. The possibilities of extending the language of 'nuevo', which is still closely based on tango and still uses the old music, are vast, and I think there's a long way to go there. I look forwards to the present form of nuevo growing away from tango, because I think that's where its tendencies and potential are. But whether nuevo in its present form, or in a more advanced form, will remain as a people's choice for a fun night out dancing... Don't know about you, but I doubt it.