Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Es una pasión...

This might not be very fair... but I clicked on a video and this is what opened: I hadn't watched it in a while. For a few moments I thought it was the same music that Osvaldo and Enriqueta were dancing to, but it's Bajo de un cielo de estrellas, and a different orquesta (Miguel Calo): the two pieces are very similar, both in melody and feel. But the dance is worlds away: reminds me what's lost. Tete and Silvia at their very best, absolutely on fire with a favourite piece of music, and it's so good to remember them together like this. Tete, totally intent on the dance, and without that irritating arm-flapping or the very unconvincing change of roles (he always looked as if he was leading anyway), dancing here as if nothing else existed except each other and the music and the dance. (Forget the floor once in a while!) 'Sin miedo', be fearless, was his advice: go for it! Silvia, in brief glimpses (the video quality isn't great) looks as if she's laughing with joy. The conviction and energy, the sheer life force of it, the physicality of it, and at the same time the control and attention to the music, like almost nothing else and reminding me why I found tango so compelling, why I wanted to visit Buenos Aires in the first place. It blows almost everything else away, certainly the narcissistic elaboration of a lot of contemporary tango, always conscious how pretty its feet are... Not many dancers are so extrovert in their wholehearted passion for dance and music, and it's so good to be reminded.

It's often struck me that I've never heard Argentines describe tango as an addiction: when asked how they see tango they nearly always say it's a passion, ' una pasión!' Videos like this give us an idea what 'una pasión' can mean...

Sunday, 27 November 2011


Candombe is said to be the origin of tango, but I think you have to go back 150 years and make a few big leaps too. There's really no resemblance now. In Uruguay I believe it has always been much more mainstream and public, but I've read that into the 1940s there were still late-night sessions in Buenos Aires when no whites were present, when the candombe drums induced trance. Public fiestas like this one seem to have started relatively recently in Argentina.

I doubt that much of the energy of this music will survive YouTube compression. The 'original soundtrack' is CD quality, and even then it'll need some big speakers. The sound is astonishing, not only because it is intensely physical, but also because it is both very organised and at the same time seems very close to dis-organisation, taken to the brink of chaos; both highly rhythmic and intensely complex. This website explains that the three sizes of drum play different rhythms simultaneously, hence the complexity of sound. Emotionally it's surprisingly overwhelming. A heavily overcast, humid afternoon.

Something that struck me about this event was the complete absence of a police presence. Yes, people were trusted to run their own street party, play loud drums, light fires in the street, dance, drink. Then the procession marched off along the streets, stopping traffic in all directions, without any apparent police presence. It was all very relaxed and good-natured too. Current UK policing gives the impression of being increasingly restrictive and confrontational: perhaps that's necessary in the UK.

'Intense performances can cause damage to red blood cells, which manifests as rust-colored urine immediately after drumming.' - Wikipedia.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Jorge Manganelli

The latest PractiMilongueros interviewee is Jorge Manganelli. 'Tango has an evolutionary process that keeps it alive' he says, '... but inside the evolutionary process the essence and the roots should be present... The dance should preserve the essence and the roots.'

His advice: 'Enjoy those three minutes that a tango lasts, the simple fact of enjoying the embrace, of listening to the music, and respecting the couple ahead of you, making sure you don't hurt them'. Once again, those three essential things: the embrace, the music and the floor.

His name led me to YouTube channel Rondadeases ('Ronda of aces'?), which started recently and has some archival video.

This is a 20-minute video from Rondadeases of an evening at Sin Rumbo in April 1989, organised by Manganelli I think, as a presentation to 'Petroleo'. I think that's Portalea and his partner at the beginning. There's a certain amount of Petroleo-influenced dance in it, but also some marvelous salon. The cigarette smoke is visible!

I haven't had time to watch the videos on Rondadeases but they seem to be mostly undated, although some of them certainly date back: the video of Geraldine Rojas, then perhaps 13 or 14, certainly isn't recent (or particularly memorable). & there are some useful videos of Manganelli teaching, in one case a very large workshop in Buenos Aires. His walk is awesome: unhurried, smooth, completely assured, like an entirely benevolent big cat, completely at ease with gravity.

Manganelli also has a website with a page of video links. These include this from the 1988 film Tango, Bayle Nuestro, also I think in Sin Rumbo, with Finito, Portalea, Balmaceda, and others. Once again, that walk...

Interesting that video from that era seems to show much more of a mix of styles than you'd see currently. Perhaps there was more room on the floor in those days. Continuous close embrace is now the predominant dance of Buenos Aires.

P.S. I forgot to add that if you follow the Tango, Bayle Nuestro clip back to YouTube you'll find annotations by Ney Melo, which give the names of individual dancers on a timeline.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Tango in small places

Tango is urban. It came to maturity in a city on floors that often weren't that big, and on which a lot of dancers gathered. Perhaps it's the most social of social dances. It occurred to me recently that there's a critical mass for a good milonga. I think you need twenty or more couples: when there are only ten or fifteen couples in one of the smallest London milongas that tango energy, the buzz of a good evening, starts to falter, and of course there's the additional problem of having insufficient partners to choose. When I mentioned this to a friend recently she added that too many people can also have a dulling effect: for a start you begin to have problems actually finding the people you want to dance with.

This doesn't make life easy for people who love tango and dislike cities. At the extreme there's blogger Reality Pivots who has built a tango floor, 8ft by 24ft, into his smallholding: 'It's a magnificent obsession!' a musician friend watching tango dancing recently exclaimed. Tango happens week in and week out in church and village halls up and down the UK, and it's wonderful that the music and the dance continue to draw people even in circumstances that seem adverse if you're used to city milongas. I've become aware of a couple of examples of church hall tango recently, and I have to admire people who put in the time and energy to keep tango alive with six, ten or maybe fifteen dancers locally. Of course a lot depends on who is teaching: friends of Ricardo Vidort have ended up living and teaching far from urban centres, people who spent weeks in Buenos Aires just walking. On the other hand students of show dancers also teach locally, and watching people who've not learned to walk well trying to manage double ganchos at their weekly dance is no less excruciating in a church hall than in a London milonga. Excruciating, and desperately sad too.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Osvaldo Natucci and Enriqueta Kleinman

'They dance close in London, yes, but it's not milonguero' said Enriqueta, and I think I'm beginning to get an idea of what she means. Just dancing close embrace doesn't make it milonguero. Perhaps these videos make that clearer.

Enriqueta was in London in August and there were workshops. Another porteña who speaks her mind in clear English, and has a long and close connection with tango, a lot of valuable, available experience. (Apparently porteñas have a reputation for plain speaking.)

Friday, 11 November 2011

Dancing Dreams

I recently discovered that a second Pina Bausch film was released this year. The big one, of course, is the all-dancing 3D film by Wim Wenders, Pina, which is truly spectacular but lacks one thing, the living presence of Pina, except for a brief moment. In Dancing Dreams Pina is still alive.

About 30 years ago she choreographed a piece called Kontakthof, 'courtyard of contact', about a dance hall and the people who gather there. The music is varied but there's quite a bit of German tango from the 1930s. Later she revised the piece using non-dancers, ordinary people over the age of 65. Dancing Dreams is a record of the making of a third version with high school students from Wuppertal. It's a straightforward TV 'making of' film, talking to the students about themselves, to the teachers, watching how, over a year, once a week, the teenagers put together a public performance. They grow visibly in the course of the year, and it's wonderful to see how one person's vision can change lives. The performance was premiered shortly before Pina's death, and came to the Barbican in London.

Dancing Dreams is my favourite of the two films, less spectacular and more intimate, and moreover Pina is at the heart of it. There are extracts on YouTube. This is the only version of the trailer with English subtitles, but sadly the aspect ratio is wrong. The film with English subtitles is available from Amazon and is available to rent on LOVEFILM.

The company is putting on 12 full-length pieces in London next June, but it's already late if you want tickets. I booked in September, and if the theatre plans are accurate I got the last seats for the two performances I booked.

The variety of her work is extraordinary.

If you happen to watch the trailer for Dancing Dreams, you might spot that the serious teacher who instructs the teenagers is the much younger dancer in the second of these clips...

Friday, 4 November 2011


An Encuentro Milonguero is being organised in the South of France from Friday 24 February to Sunday 26 2012. It's called 'mirame', 'look at me'(?). Close embrace is promised, with cabeceo and codigos, a maximum of 200 people, and male/female parity. We are promised everything in one place, 'warm as a cocoon'; residence, restaurant and dance hall. It's outside Castres, off the road from Montpellier to Nimes. Nothing is said about the floor.

The website is mainly in French. As far as I can make out there are some 30 4-room villas on site with kitchen included free, if kept clean. If all four 2-person rooms are occupied, a villa will cost €20.50 per person per night + €1.50 tax. A three-day pass to the milongas, including food, is €100 per person.

The organisers are Lalie and Pierre of the Association Access Tango, and the Djs are David Alvarez, Lalie Marion, Luigi Grieco and Myriam Alarcon. I've never heard of any of these, but I guess that's my ignorance. Better translations and more info welcomed.