Saturday, 28 March 2009

How they organise things in Buenos Aires...

...when there are visitors who haven't been house-trained.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Siobhan Davies at Victoria Miro

Siobhan Davies started making dance in the 70s. The first piece I saw was the stunning 13 Keys to Scarlatti, played live, upstairs in the Atlantis building on Brick Lane, on an X-shaped stage raised about 50cm, in a huge hall. There were no seats: you walked around and could stand quite close to the dancers. Siobhan Davies says it's a privilege to work close to dancers in the studio and likes to offer that proximity to the public. It was an energetic piece with, I think, three dancers from the Royal Ballet as well as her own group, and to watch dancers like that from a couple of metres away, instead of from a distant seat, was unforgettable.

Victoria Miro moved her gallery from Cork Street to an old warehouse near the canal in lower Islington about eight years ago. It's a wonderful space to wander round and look at what she's showing. She now has an even more wonderful huge room up on the roof, one wall being floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at London skies, and a floor that dreams of milongas. I think this is the second piece she's invited Siobhan Davies to make to complement a gallery exhibition. Called Minutes, the 'dancing' is neither strenuous nor physically demanding: at times it resembled a rather genteel 60s happening, people in ordinary clothes doing slightly unusual things. But it accumulated into a relaxed, enjoyable 40 minutes: Davies sat with a watch counting out the minutes and I arrived as she counted '20'. At '60' all the performers left. The work is continuous, so I guess that after a short pause they start again.

I filmed an installation outside, and a video installation of dance by Idris Khan and Sarah Warsop. Then the batteries died, so I have only how I remember Minutes.

I'd like to add a bit to the above. The dance 'language' used isn't in any way the language you normally expect of highly-trained dancers. There are no moves that only highly skilled dancers can do. This is choreography in the broadest sense of the organisation of movement. There's nothing breath-taking in it, apart from its simplicity. But this actually involves the watchers, the audience, even more, as it's easier for one's body to partake, passively, in something that close to the movements of everyday life. Thus we sit, are involved in small but significant ways, and the minutes are counted as they pass. Some of them seem long, some seem short. Time and movement.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Alberto Dassieu cont.

Since links don't always work well out of 'Comments', here are Eva Garlez and Alberto Dassieu giving a demo in El Beso during the MILONGUERO08 festival.

There's also a clip of them dancing a vals in the same daylit room as before. For completeness, here are two more clips, Alberto and his wife dancing a Donato vals and an amazing slow Pugliese tango

I like the dance he leads because there's nothing superfluous in it, because his partner has space to express her sense of the music, and because they do simple things very fluently. He might not be that well-known, even in Buenos Aires tango, but like a few other survivors, his experience of tango goes back to the 1950s. My point is that there are dancers out there with over 50 years' experience, who get invited most summers to teach in Europe and the USA, and we never see them in the UK. Soon it will be too late.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Alberto Dassieu

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.

I enjoyed writing that, except for the last sentence. & I would love to see Alberto Dassieu in London -- and all the others too, of course. Here are a couple of videos of him: I tend to link videos here so I can find them quickly when I want to watch them, and these are two I want to watch often.

I love the second, the vals, in particular, the energy and precision of it, the musicality, but I also like the spare elegance of the Pugliese. There's not a superfluous gesture, not an ornament not related directly to basic movement, no distraction from feeling. Form arises from function. Doing simple things very very well, and expressing the phrases and compas of the music. I think it's easier to learn a flash move, and to force it into a dance, than to do a simple turn really well, as smoothly as that generation of dancers turn. To me there's no doubt which is best to watch, and which I'd prefer to do. & they are totally centred. Wonderful dancing, and two favourite pieces of music, especially the D'Arienzo vals. When you dance it you know it's building up to a double-speed section at the end, and you will have to fly.

Dassieu is in his 70s now, and started dancing over 50 years ago in the Villa Urquiza barrio. & he teaches in Europe and the USA: he'll be in Zurich in May. This is his website (Spanish only, unfortunately, as there's a long reminiscence of his life in tango), and there is an interview with him in English and Spanish here.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Tango and Goosepimples

Tango: Baile Nuestro (Tango Our Dance if you are looking to buy it) is an Argentine film from 1988, an imaginative film, an ambitious film, a defective film, even irritating, but still fascinating. Defective in that, although people are imaginatively introduced at the beginning, as the film goes on new people appear, talk, perform, dance, without any introduction, so we don't know who they are. Irritating: any tango film with a section on a New Zealander from the Arthur Murray school of tango – standardised ballroom tango – teaching classes is irritating when there's so much more interesting material. On the other hand it's a general survey of tango in 1988, from Copes with his collection of Betamax cassettes of dancers, to the milongueros who work in cemeteries and scrap yards -- via the Arthur Murray dance schools.

The film hovers on the edge of 'the Milongueros' without ever really getting close to them, although we see brief episodes of wonderful tango at a milonga. Those people danced smooth! Then there's a lively scene when a visiting NBC crew films 'tango' – synchronised tango! In front of a 1920s car! All the while the film-maker talks to the audience. No, that's not the tango we dance and feel. It's cold, rehearsed, it's a laboratory product. It's not from the heart, not done with your feelings. Tango is sweetness. We think tango must be felt close to your heart: your ear, heart, and finally your feet speak. What we are seeing here is a fraud. It's not our tango, the one we feel when we dance... Sad that 'our tango' is shown only in glimpses, though I understand that if you know your milongueros there are many legends in those glimpses.

But it is of its era. 1988. Five years after the end of military rule. Over five years of massive success for Copes in Paris and on Broadway. Show tango of the highest order had made Argentina and tango famous: the film maker recognised the importance of the milongueros, but it might have been rash of him to spend time showing something his audience might not recognise. But there is a wonderful section with Portalea, at home and in the milonga: good to see him apparently in great health because in the BBC's Tango Salon, first shown in 2005, he is much older, and his dancing less intense. (He died last year.) & the film irritates again: at home he demonstrates with his wife how footwork has changed, allowing dancers to perform more figures. He's talking about his feet, and demonstrating with his feet, and the camera only shows head and shoulders!

& the goose-pimples? 'Tango has to give you goose-pimples, otherwise it's no good, brother.'

Monday, 16 March 2009

Another kind of dance

William Forsythe: American choreographer who's worked in Frankfurt for many years; not to be confused with an Australian showtime choreographer, or a Hollywood actor... The DVD includes 'Just dancing around?', a docu by Mike Figgis, and 'From a Classical Position' danced by Forsythe and Dana Caspersen. The docu is a straightforward, well-made account of Forsythe, his company and work. Trained in the classical Balanchine tradition, working with classically trained dancers, but expecting just about anything from them. Very creative with movement on an individual level, on a group level, and with the theatrical spectacle, and capable of taking on and dealing with complex and extreme subjects and emotions.

The docu shows clips of 'The loss of small detail' from on stage, a massive, extraordinary explosion of energy, very beautiful. There's a wonderful scene of Forsythe teaching a young dancer a few minutes of a ballet he choreographed to a Handel Concerto Grosso: he dances with amazing fluency and energy, she follows and copies, phrase by phrase. Then she puts it all together with the music for the first time. If you sit close enough to the stage during a performance you hear the heavy breathing and know how much hard work that effortlessness takes. But to be in the studio and watch the mental effort of learning, of recreating something for the first time, is really a privilege.

There are plenty of clips on YouTube, many from the DVD he made to explain his improvisation techniques. Most of the clips are the classical end of his work. This is Forsythe rehearsing 'In the middle something elevated', with Sylvie Guillem at the Paris Opera Ballet, some years ago (dated by an XXXX T-shirt). As the French says, poor quality film but worth watching for the end.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

An evening at Carablanca

It sometimes happens on a not-too-crowded floor that the dancing is more perilous than on a crowded floor, and Carablanca was a bit like that last night. I give myself marks for not bumping anyone: it shouldn't ever happen, but what can you do when you lead a simple ocho cortado and bump the leader of the couple behind, who has his back to you? It just shouldn't happen. You're taught never to drive close to the car in front for good reason. Tangoandchaos has some excellent new pages on floorcraft, complete with diagrams: they explain general principles, and also show how the crowded floorspace in Buenos Aires is used. As I noticed when I was there, the 'lanes' aren't strictly observed: if a space opens up to the leader's left, he'll use it, then filter back into the line of dance. What it doesn't explain is how a practised dancer like “Tete” can, like a quantum particle, appear in different places apparently without passing through the space between them.

& there was a demonstration by Pablo Pugliese and Noel Strazza which, like most demonstrations, left me cold. No, not cold, just vaguely bored. A demonstration of... how not to dance? Ok, it had entertainment value as a stage act, but was it anything more? I can be/have been very moved watching older dancers dancing calmly, slowly, savouring every note of the music, responding with their whole bodies to the rise and fall of every phrase, dancing as part of the music, as if they found their whole life experience in the songs they danced to, with intimacy and complete attention to each other, and with consideration to other dancers dancing the same dance... That's tango.

I danced with a partner who said she's 'just a beginner'. I think she said that because she'd been persuaded by teachers like Pablo into thinking that tango = acrobatic display, that you aren't dancing tango well if you're not dancing wild kicks and dramatic turns. I enjoy dancing with partners who say they are 'just beginners' because I can lead simply, and check how clear my leading is, and because... well, because I enjoy dancing. So long as the lead/follow connection works well, it's good tango: for a few moments the separation between two people just dissolves in the music. That's tango, to me.

&, for the first time, someone came up to me and asked if I was tangocommuter. There has to be a first time.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Learning tango

Historically, if you were a leader your elder brother taught you to follow so he'd have someone to practice his leading with, or your mum taught you a few moves in the kitchen and you went out and practised with your mates. & you watched dancers in social dances, and tried to work out and copy what they were doing. The incentive: being a good dancer boosted your social life. Men never danced together, but they practised with each other: Sally Potter makes a point of showing Pablo, Gustavo, and Fabian leading and following each other in The Tango Lesson.

These days we go to classes. In Buenos Aires, there seems to be a consensus in the teaching of 'milonguero' tango. All the classes I went to started with a gentle warm up that explored awareness of balance, progressed to leading or following walking in parallel and in close hold, in single and double time, and then focused on one of the many variations of the ocho cortado. A close hold, walking with the music and good posture, are insisted on. At one class I went to, I found myself in the change of partners with a very young woman – probably no older than 16 – who was clearly uncomfortable at dancing so closely with a stranger, a much older man. Of course I didn't insist, but the teacher, Susana Miller, saw us dancing somewhat apart, and gently but quite firmly pushed us into a close hold, which my partner then accepted.

The teachers in all the classes I went to gave everyone a lot of attention in matters of posture and musicality. This wasn't a problem because the basic material they were working with, walking and ocho cortados, didn't take a lot of time to demonstrate. That is, they concentrated on getting us to do simple things well and clearly.

The same pattern was followed by the late Ricardo Vidort in a class at the Dome in London 3½ years ago. He didn't push anyone into close hold: he just joked about it. “Boys and girls, hold your partner close. It is not for life! It is just for one dance!”: everyone laughed and adopted a close hold. Lovely guy. & he taught the ocho cortado.

Why so much ocho cortado? You notice it is used a lot in social dancing in Buenos Aires, partly I assume because it takes up little room on a crowded floor, it's what you do when a couple steps in front of you, it can be led from a walk in parallel, and of course it feels good when it's done well. In the context of a class it teaches leading and following from the torso, as both partners need to turn a lot from the waist to do a good ocho cortado in close hold. It also involves the use of double time, and like any tango move there are many possible variations. I expect there are other beginners' classes with different emphases, but I think it's safe to assume that most dancers in Buenos Aires begin in classes like these: close hold, musicality, posture, the ocho cortado.

It occurs to me that 'classes', which suggests a progression of learning, isn't quite the right word. 'Workshops' might be more apt, occasions when you do some work on a topic.

London is quite different. So far as I know, close hold is never insisted on in beginners classes, I don't remember musicality being emphasised so much at the start and, unless things have changed in four years, the eight-step salida is taught instead of the ocho cortado: not quite sure why it has such a hold on British tango. But I think the central difference is that there is no consensus here that a firm basis in close hold, walking to the music, and the ocho cortado is the best foundation. If you were taught this basis repeatedly you could go to another class and learn something different. You might think you were progressing fast because you might get a lot more varied and apparently quite complex material. But would you be able to go to a milonga and dance all that stuff with someone who hadn't been in the class with you? If not, you were being conned – unless, that is, you don't want to do anything else except go to classes where your partner knows her part, and you can imagine you are dancing on stage together, which suits some people.

Conned? Well, not intentionally. But I think that although teachers are well aware that a firm basis in simple things is necessary, they are also aware that if they don't seem to teach complex material their students won't feel they are doing well, and might take their class fees elsewhere. Another problem is that many London teachers have a stage background, and at heart perhaps rather less sympathy for, or experience of social dancing. & we don't live in a culture in which the milonga is central to the dance: generally speaking, stage and ballroom tango are more familiar than social tango. Perhaps as a result of this orientation of London dance, teachers of 'milonguero' tango don't get invited here: they go everywhere except the UK, all over Europe and the USA, because it's not what people want here, and they don't want it here because it's not the kind of tango they've been taught. In a way there's too much on offer, and too little consensus.

The result can be confusing. Am I an inferior leader because I can't lead back saccadas, or ganchos, with the kind of ease that makes them look natural, and should I stand in a milonga trying to wrestle my partner into a gancho? Am I a hopeless follower because I can't wave my legs around four times to each beat with unexpected decorations that risk of tripping myself and the leader? These crises of confidence might keep teachers in business, but they shouldn't arise. As a basis we need to be able to stand upright, walk in time to the music and dance a few variations of the ocho cortado, and I think we should be aware that there's nothing wrong with enjoying whole evenings of dance, leading clearly and following the music, with little more than that. That seems a reference point for tango in Buenos Aires, it's what most people do when they go out dancing, it's a necessary foundation on which a lot can be built, but it seems it's a reference point we aren't close to enjoying in London.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Terence Davies Trilogy

Like the Bill Douglas trilogy, and made just a few years later. But whereas Bill Douglas is closely autobiographical, and thus about the film-maker, the Terence Davies films are more generally about suffering, loosely based on autobiography. A grim childhood, a young adult, a dying man. It was a relief to watch the extra feature on the DVD, in colour instead of gritty mono, an interview with Davies, who came over as reassuringly serious but cheerful, and willing to admit that the trilogy was made at a very dark time in his life. Wonderful to see storytelling with a minimum of story telling: stories told visually have impact, are much more compact, than anything spoken in dialogue. I look forward to Of Time and the City, out next month.

D'Agostino: Barrio de tres esquinas

You can still visit the Barrio de Tres Esquinas: Rick McGarrey has a whole page on the song, with a full translation: he describes a recent visit to the barrio, with photos.