Thursday, 28 January 2010

An asado with Pedro Sanchez

I've been looking forward to this post. The film celebrates an exceptionally happy and enjoyable tango evening in Buenos Aires, an asado with Pedro Sanchez, organised so we could film him dancing. In fact he seemed much more interested in teaching, but the film of the evening as a whole, and the brief moments of his dance, were so good that it seemed a real waste not to put it all together as a short film. I'm also happy to have put together something resembling a film, rather than just uploading videos of performances.

Moreover, YouTube tells me that I've been uploading clips for two years this month, and that this one is my 50th! Celebrations all round. Hope you enjoy the asado.

PS. The section of Pedro talking actually lasts about 40 minutes, a fascinating story of his life in tango and in Buenos Aires. I hope we can YouTube it, or at least some longer extracts from it, in the not-too-distant future. It's full of stories, and thoughts about tango as dance and music.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Oh, the cabeceo...

There are lots of stories about the cabeceo; the ones that worked, the ones that didn't, the ones that worked but only just, the ones that got away. Here's one of mine.

My friend arrived much later than me, and we were seated at opposite ends of the room. I was looking forward to a dance with her, but she'd been given a seat behind a large gentleman, and most of the time I couldn't even get a glimpse of her. She danced one tanda, then disappeared again. & then there was a cortina and suddenly I could see her smiling at me and nodding. I stood up and walked firmly across the floor.

However, just as I arrived in front of her I became aware that the guy sitting next to me was walking beside me, in the same direction, and I saw a look of consternation on her face. Had it all gone very wrong? My confident walk faltered: I envisaged having to walk straight past her and on to the toilets, as if that had been my confident intention all along. & then, equally suddenly, it was resolved. The girl sitting next to her rose to greet the guy walking next to me. I greeted my friend, and two happy couples took to the floor.

It usually works pretty well, once you get used to it. Perhaps it would be less nerve-racking if we used texts... but you wouldn't want to spend half a tanda fumbling with a mobile!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Rare video

In case anyone has missed it, Tango and Chaos recently updated with an extraordinary and very rare piece of video. It's here. Essential viewing.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Joaquín Amenábar workshops

Thanks to the weather, I arrive towards the end of the first workshop on tango melody. I'd always assumed the structure of tangos was A-B-A, but I find out immediately that they are usually much more complicated. Five sections are not uncommon: A-B-A-C-A, for example.

Then the milonga workshop. Different kinds of traspie: a kind of simple basic rock-step, useful for slow intros, then the 'real' traspie, then a simplified version of it, more like a feint, which serves as traspie when dancing fast milonga. Recognising different parts of the milonga: tendency in milonga to use major and minor keys ('happy' and 'sad') alternately in sections. There are sections of a milonga with the traspie beat/rhythm, and there are sections without it when we dance lisse. Occasionally there are sections where we hear the traspie beat, but the melody is so smooth that we would naturally dance lisse. We walk through a milonga several times to get familiar with the sections in the music and rhythms, then dance it in open embrace with a partner, then again, swapping roles. We study and practice three milongas in this way. The method is practical and well-organised.

Finally, a workshop on Troilo. Joaquin objects to the idea of learning to dance 'to Troilo', 'to D'Arienzo', 'to Di Sarli': 'Which D'Arienzo?' he asks. Each orquesta sounded different at different periods, and they all sound remarkably similar to each other at any one period. He plays a track from 1942 and asks us which orquesta it is. We'd been listening to Troilo and just danced a track of Di Sarli: it could well be Di Sarli. But it's D'Arienzo.

He takes us through phrases that have syncopated rhythms and double-times in three Troilo tangos from a 1936 sextet, an orquesta from the 1940s, and another from the 1950s. With time, the sound becomes bigger and more symphonic: at the same time, the bandoneon, Troilo's bandoneon, becomes more and more flexible, almost ignoring the rhythm behind it. Again, we walk through the rhythms, practicing the phrases with double-tempo beats and syncopation. He shows a simple walking step for the double tempo, but he says he's not there to teach us 'steps'; 'Ask your teachers for that'.

He just wants us to be able to pick out and walk correctly through the rhythms, but that's not easy. In fact, these are subtleties in the music that casual listening, or casual dancing, would probably ignore, but if you can pick them out and respond to them then a simple basic dance can become full of interest, even just walking and using the simplest steps. But it isn't easy. For instance, a phrase with four repetitions of a double-time might recur later, but with five repetitions of the double time instead of four. All of this means paying very careful attention to what's in the music.

We learn the melodic structures of the three Troilo tangos, we walk through each of them several times to familiarise ourselves with the different sections, and with the double-time passages within them, and then dance them once or twice as freely as we wish (or can!). For comparison, we dance to a Di Sarli version of Tinta Verde, one of the three Troilo tangos we've been through, so we can see that, although it is a different version and sounds different, it's recognisably the same piece of music. He draws a clear distinction with jazz: as he says, four jazzmen who've never played together can sit down one evening and play together, while in his experience it takes up to two years to get together a tango orquesta with a repertoire of 17 tangos, by the time the arrangements have been worked out and rehearsed. He talks about the background of the tango in European classical music.

Joaquin is very engaging because of his enthusiasm for both music and dancing, and his English is better than excellent: he can really express his enthusiasm and explain things simply and clearly, and he seems to understand the problems people have with the music and the dance. As a tango musician, a bandoneonista, he is aware of the subtleties of rhythm and melody, and of melodic structure, and he wants to bring this awareness to dancing. I can't help thinking that this is how the dance should be taught: the dance is always a response to the music, so we need to learn to listen to the music and to respond to the melodic and rhythmic structures in it. Just learning steps and dancing them against a background of tango music isn't the same thing: it's an unfortunate concentration on a superficial part of the whole, it's putting the cart before the horse.

Tete said, in his open letter, distributed in the milongas on his birthday four years ago, 'Tango is music, and it doesn’t begin with steps. We shouldn’t commit the mistake of not teaching how to walk different musical rhythms to recognize each orchestra'. It seems that Joaquin is one of the few teachers not making that mistake. I think he teaches exactly what Tete calls for: he teaches how to walk different musical rhythms, with the different orchestras, and also with the same orchestra at different periods.

Spending an afternoon listening with that much attention to the music really opened my ears to a lot that I was hardly aware of (if at all) in the music, to things that I would have ignored or registered simply as a problem in dancing, and to which I wouldn't have known the answer. I could do with a lot more classes like this, and I wish his approach could change completely the way tango is taught.

He talks about a number of other things too: in particular, outside the class, he's very scathing about the DJing in Buenos Aires. A pity we can't get him to DJ an evening in London.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Tete: just a bit more...

Jantango has just posted her response to the recent death of Tete: it consists of a quote from the open letter to the tango community that he wrote four years ago, making very clear his views on tango and how it is taught. She also includes a link to a video of Tete's last performance with Sylvia, at Salon Canning ten days before his death – and also a link to a video of Tete's nephew, Adrian Rusconi, dancing with Mirta Tiseyra at Maipu 444, just a few days ago, just a few days after Tete's death, as a tribute.

I find this extraordinary. I watched this guy dancing several evenings in December without knowing who he was, as I know nothing about Tete's family, and I was really astonished by him. In Europe it's not so unusual to see big guys who are amazingly light and sure on their feet, but watching this I can see the apparently reckless 'sin miedo' energy of Tete, the speed and certainty of foot to carry it off, the same grounded walk, that same delight in dancing, that same incredibly precise musicality. The dance just seems to pour out of him. & when I was watching him on a crowded floor he still managed to dance with a lot of this energy and delight without getting in anyone's way. Sadly it seems to be the only video of him at present, but it's enough to show that tango carries on, even when the older dancers are no longer there.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

End of dream I awoke to find myself walking down the steps from a jumbo jet onto the tarmac at Heathrow at 7am. It was bitterly cold and raining. Walked over to a bus, and was shuttled to the back door of Terminal 5, where we had to queue outside in the rain while passports were checked, pretty much at gunpoint: that's just to get into the terminal. Immigration comes later. At baggage reclaim I noticed the flight had come from that city of hot breezes, Buenos Aires. The airport 'welcome' made me feel like I live in a war zone, where I'm guilty until I prove I'm harmless. You don't think about it once you're inside. You used to wave a passport, maybe get it stamped, and that was that. Are we really a country at war, in a secretive, undeclared way, and why? At 7am, after 16 hours in the air, I wondered for a moment if I wouldn't rather live in a country that's not managed to make so many enemies for itself. & Argentina is generally big enough to absorb immigrants, and always has been.

& a bit later, I'm practically snowed in. Not sure if I can get up to London for Joaquín Amenábar's workshops tomorrow at Tango en el Cielo. The early morning trains get canceled, and there's plenty of snow forecast overnight.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Alberto Dassieu

It's been difficult: I contacted both Alberto and Pedro Sanchez before I arrived in the city of hot winds. Pedro invited me to meet him at Maipu 444 on my first Saturday there, and Alberto the following evening at the same place, and after that they continued to run in tandem. I took classes with both of them, as neither teach group classes any more, and I had a very affectionate friendship with both, and both were very kind and helped me a great deal. But I can't write about two giants at the same time, and it distresses me that putting one second seems to imply less importance, which simply isn't the case. I put Pedro first because I had all that video I wanted to share on the web. He's less well known, so it seemed important.

Alberto is much more widely known. Most years he's visited Switzerland, where he's invited by friends to teach, and he's taught on several tours of the US. There are also a number of videos of him, including the vals with Elba Biscay, but I've come to prefer the quieter dances with his wife, Paulina, as they seem more intimate. I can see in them the material he taught me: I couldn't follow all of it properly in his classes, but I was grateful that he went through it with me. He has a website, which sadly is at present only in Spanish (a pity because there are several substantial pieces of writing by him there).

I found him warm, generous and friendly - but I can say that of most of the people I met. His little living room on the fifth floor, with a balcony that has been turned into a miniature garden, where birds would fly in and the breeze brought relief from the summer heat, was always a delightful place to be invited into. Alberto and Paulina, many thanks for your kindness and friendship.

He'll be in San Fransisco and Chicago to teach this spring, and teaching in Switzerland this coming July, I believe.

Irene and Man Yung spent some time with him, and these are their posts about him.

& this is the vals he features on his own website:

Video thanks to Yesimlaturca.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Pedro 'Tete' Rusconi: flown away

I was very sad to hear the news of the death of 'Tete' Rusconi this morning. I first came across him with Sylvia on YouTube about four years ago. I was taking classes with a local dancer who'd studied with Pablo Veron, and feeling very uncomfortable. I got a great lift from the music, it made me want to dance: where did that go when I stumbled through a long choreographed sequence of back saccadas and giros? At that time there were just three videos of Tete and Silvia, dancing at Porteño y Bailarín, and they were a breath of fresh air. There were no long sequences of distinct 'steps': all the steps seemed to flow out of and into each other, and all immediately expressed the energy and onrush of the music. I knew immediately that this was the tango I wanted to dance, it was what the music was asking for. But finding where they were seemed impossible as they didn't have a website; they visited France and the Netherlands several times, and I didn't find out until videos appeared months later on YouTube.

So I went to Buenos Aires in November 2007 in the hope of meeting them. I'd found an email for Sylvia and contacted her when I arrived, and within five minutes I'd organised three private classes with them. My abiding impression is that they did nothing casually in tango. If they demonstrated a step, he would lead it with all the intensity and concentration and musicality that he would give it in a milonga. He could also be very funny: we laughed a lot. The classes weren't easy, but he gave me very important advice about walking, that grounded, musical walk of tango. He seemed to put all his energy into dance as if nothing else mattered, and I think he had a real affection for anyone else who took it seriously. 'Sin pensamiento!' 'Sin miedo!' Without thinking! Without fear! Five months later I went to Paris for their workshops: the best workshops I've ever taken.

There are some extracts from Daniel Tonelli's film about Tete on YouTube. & Irene posted an account of a dance with Tete on her blog just two days ago (towards the end of the page.)

I saw him in Buenos Aires again this midwinter: the same Tete, wandering round the milongas looking a bit disorganised until suddenly he was deep in a dance, that same sure footwork, those same smooth, muscular, grounded turns. & that's my last memory of him, about two weeks ago. There will be a space in the milongas where he would have been, and no one else was like that. There are many great dancers, but Tete was somehow larger than life.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Alberto Podestá sings at Porteño y Bailarín 2

Another section of Alberto Podestá's performance at Porteño y Bailarín, Buenos Aires, 2009.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Alberto Podestá sings at Porteño y Bailarín

When I was in Buenos Aires last year I heard that Alberto Podestá was to sing at Porteño y Bailarín. This amazed me: the singer, who sang with Miguel Caló, Carlos Di Sarli, Pedro Laurenz, Francini-Pontier, was still alive? I had listened to Podestá sing Paisaje and Recién with Laurenz, and Bajo un cielo de estrellas with Caló, over and over again. It was just the best tango music ever.

But I was leaving the morning of the day (or rather night) that Podestá was to sing. So there I was, six miles up over mid-Atlantic as he sang at Porteño y Bailarín. He was due to sing in London with the Cafe de los Maestros last summer, but didn't make it to the hall: he is 84. So I was delighted to hear that he was to sing at Porteño y Bailarín late in December. The place was packed, and he seemed to love being there, singing for us. I'd expected three numbers and a round of applause, but he sang on and on, taking requests from the audience. His physical voice is no longer wonderful, but his spirit and musicianship still drive him, and the emotional intensity of his singing was extraordinary.

There's a translation of an interview with him here. And it's well worth looking at this, a well-lit video of Podestá singing, with subtitles, which really makes good sense of what you are hearing and watching. Here he is in December.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Pedro Sanchez: vals and milonga

These are the last of the videos of Pedro Sanchez demonstrating his relaxed, musical tango. The vals is below: there are also two milongas, milonga 2 and milonga 3. Every time we recorded a vals, a bird, sounding to UK ears like a blackbird, starts singing at the other end of the patio!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Pedro Sanchez: milonga and tango

Something worrying...

I uploaded the Pedro Sanchez vals above (i.e., below), and almost immediately got an email from YouTube to tell me that the music track is 'owned or licensed by WMG'. They tell me that 'for the time being' I needn't do anything. They have added a link to iTunes, where you can purchase the track as a download.

I thought this had happened because I identified the music in the writing, so I changed the wording, but then I noticed that the same thing has happened to another tango I uploaded two years ago. I didn't know what the music was, so I didn't identify it in writing but it's been spotted, so now I know what the track is, and which orquesta. Their software obviously crawls around YouTube's vast servers, emitting unpleasant odours every time it recognises a piece of music. I've noticed elsewhere that music tracks have simply been removed from videos because they violate copyright, so I guess I'm lucky '...for the time being': they can change their policy.

If all the owners of music start to do this we have a really serious problem. I've learned a great deal from watching tango on YouTube, and enjoyed fragments of a lot of other dance, but a dance without music, particularly an improvised tango, is close to meaningless. The reaction seems particularly harsh when the music is not taken digitally from a CD, but is recorded from a loudspeaker in another room, with the sounds of traffic, wind, birds and a sizzling barbecue mixed in. The answer, I guess: YouTube Downloader is simple and free, and there's a Mac version too.

I hope this doesn't go too far, as almost anything I watch on YouTube probably involves copyright material, often in low quality and in bits and pieces, but useful. (I tend not to watch home-made videos of teenage birthday parties, or of how to take a clock apart.) If anyone else has had problems with this, or knows anything about it, I'd be interested to hear. I believe it's very recent, so we may be at the beginning of a big change in the way we can use YouTube. It would be very sad if it reverts to being a storage for home-made videos of how to dismantle clocks.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Pedro Sanchez

I first heard about Pedro from Tina's site while she was living in Buenos Aires and working with him as a teaching assistant. There were just a couple of videos on YouTube. I gathered he was highly regarded as a teacher and milonguero, but the videos didn't seem that clear. He didn't seem to do much – but it was obvious that he kept his partners moving, and looking elegant. I planned a return visit to the city of soft breezes, and he was high on the list of dancers who teach that I hoped to meet.

Pedro no longer gives public classes and Tina had left by the time I arrived, but she gave me a contact email. Sure, Pedro would be glad to meet me at a milonga, which was appropriate, and we'd take it from there. So I met up with him and Allison, who is now his teaching assistant, at Cachirulo, the Saturday-night home of the best in milonguero, at Maipu 444, just two days after I arrived. I found him friendly and immensely good-natured, and subsequently took private classes with him. He himself asked if I had a video camera as he said I would benefit from watching myself dance: something I would have asked for if he hadn't suggested it first. From there it was natural for me to point out that there were very few videos of him on the web, and to ask if we could make more. The studio was small, so he suggested we meet for an 'asado' on the patio at his home. There we filmed a number of dances, and a long interview (actually a monologue!) about his life in tango. He talks as fluently and as clearly as he dances. It was a very happy evening, and a real privilege to spend a few hours with someone who's spent much of his spare time for nearly 60 years in tango. I won't say more about him for now, as the interview is exceptionally interesting, and I'll put it on YouTube as soon as we get subtitles written.

Here are two videos of him, dancing a vals and a milonga with Allison. There are three or four more videos of dance, and a demonstration of milonga, which I'll upload over the next few days. Our evening also resulted in a number of fragments of video, which I'm editing into a short film, Asado with Pedro Sanchez. Once again, it will be on YouTube as soon as we get the subtitles together, and I'll embed it here.

I'm really pleased to be able to watch such an elegant, effortless and musical tango so clearly, a tango that fits the music and doesn't distract from it, that can be enjoyed on the most crowded floor, and I hope others will enjoy it and find it useful. Few people can dance like this. It's distinctive, beautiful and relaxed. 'Take it easy!' he says over and over. 'Listen to the music!'