Thursday, 30 December 2010

Tango at the RFH

One of tangocommuter's new year resolutions is to write shorter posts. This is simply practical: time is always short. But this resolution has failed even before the new year begins, and I have to make time to add to what I wrote about the post-xmas milonga at the Festival Hall. There was just one point I wanted to make: it was much too short! Well, it was free, and the music was live, but one single hour just isn't enough for a tango event in the post-xmas period, particularly an event with live music. & it took many of us more than an hour just to get there!

I haven't been in London the last two midwinters, but I think there has been an afternoon milonga of a good length at the RFH, organised possibly from within the tango community. I get the impression that the event this year was organised by the Festival Hall itself, so if you were disappointed by how short it was, it's certainly worth getting in touch with the Royal Festival Hall! & please do! They must already be aware of how popular the event was, both with the considerable number of dancers who turned up, and with a large number of people listening and watching. Surely it's to the advantage of the Hall to have lots of people there enjoying themselves. I think they should have some feedback in case they plan an event next year, although the budget for a three or four-hour free event is likely to be more difficult.

But it was a real pleasure to have live music to dance to. It makes a huge difference: you can never be quite sure how a live 'orquesta' is going to play, how the music will be phrased, what the tempo will be or how it might change. Live music feels alive, and we don't get enough of it. The set was excellent: there was sufficient music in a familiar, traditional 'compas' which was straightforward to dance to, mixed in with some music that was much more of a challenge. Very enjoyable! But too short!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Happy new year - and some bits and pieces

A rather grim-faced picture of Nestor La Vitola has headed my blog for too long. Afraid I have no control over the photo chosen. Time for a change.

A happy new year to everyone who comes across this, and may your best wishes come true in a peaceful and wonderful 2011!

Just back from a post-xmas milonga at the Festival Hall. It's a great space, and one of the best ballroom floors in London. There must have been well over 100 people there to dance – and it lasted just one hour. Well, it was free. So one of my wishes for the new year is at least one decent milonga post-xmas!

Three films to escape into, post-xmas. Talking Heads Stop Making Sense with David Byrne in his massive suit: a great concert, wonderfully filmed. Then the reworking of Sleeping Beauty by the Swedish choreographer Mats Ek, which is funny, constantly inventive, colourful and full of breathtaking full-on dancing. I've got it on an old tape from TV, from the days when UK TV broadcast dance: in fact I discovered over an hour of video dance shorts on the same tape, all experimental film-making and choreography. Nobody would broadcast that here today.

& Flamenco by Carlos Sauros. I have to admit I was very turned off by his Tango which seemed to lack any real substance. I understand he went to BsAs to film Copes and Maria Nieves, but couldn't persuade them to dance together. I know people who think it's marvelous, but it somehow seems to have missed the point. Only the scene of eight-year-olds learning tango in school seemed at all realistic, and I couldn't help wondering about kids of that age being taught tango: it looked like a school exercise, a cultural heritage class, strange. But Flamenco is another story altogether. He got together some of the best flamenco singers, dancers and musicians and provided them with a succession of stages to perform on. I know very little about flamenco except I love the music, and I watch this film again and again. The emotional intensity of it is extraordinary, and the colours are warm throughout. Another great concert for the north-European midwinter.

Curious that Flamenco shows the dance as something the whole community, young and old, are involved in and enjoy, whereas tango solemnly performed by schoolchildren looks incomprehensible to them.

& a new blog on the block. Many thanks to Bora for her wonderful account of a visit to BsAs. This is her first day: a wonderful breathtaking, breathless read. A lot of the blog is taken up with detailed descriptions of classes and technique, but then one uses – well, I use – a blog as a way of keeping track of oneself: I go back to posts from a year or two ago to remind myself of what I was discovering then. Interesting how younger teachers, both European and Argentine, are working on trying to improve the interaction between partners, the mechanics of lead and follow, of the embrace. So long as the musical passion that has sustained tango for so long doesn't get forgotten amidst the details of a recently-elaborated technique. Perhaps it needs to retain some rough edges.

This email arrived recently:

'LES CIGALLES MILONGUERAS in the wonderful south-west of France from 20 to 23 May 2011 in Eauze (Gers). A meeting with a total immersion in Tango: 50 hours of dance on a parquet floor during four days, with first-rate Djs, food and lodging on-site in a 100% Milonguero spirit of sharing. The complete programme soon on our site.' (Which is here.)

Friday, 17 December 2010

The man in black

It's wonderful that Tango and Chaos, Jantango and Irene and Man Yung have done so much to widen our experience of tango tradition by filming the older dancers whose experience goes back to the 1940s and 50s.

Practimilonguero too, with videos made in 'practimilongas' rather than in milongas, that include interviews. This video caught my eye a while back.

The man in black is Nestor La Vitola. In the first 40 seconds he looks quite different from the other dancers. There's a calm assurance about his movement. His posture, like that of so many of his generation, is straight-backed but not in the least stiff, and perfectly balanced. Compared to the other dancers there's something quite formal about his posture. He doesn't look as if he's trying to sink into his partner. Some of this may be through stepping forwards with a straight leg - Cacho Dante's revelation - but how can we learn to get all that right?

The interviews show a pattern. Dancing used to start at neighbourhood dances and family events around the age of 14. The mother is often the teacher. Then at 18, attendance at salons, and close embrace tango. I particularly enjoyed Rodolfo Diperna's story of watching the good dancers and then rushing out into the street with a friend to practice what they'd seen so they didn't forget it. That's how they learned. I imagine they'd have been YouTube addicts if it had been around.

Practimilonguero also made the wonderful interview with Osvaldo and Coca, parts one and two. There's also an interview and dance with Pedro Sanchez. A pity Pedro's interview is short, but many thanks to Practimilonguero for the extended interview with Osvaldo and Coca! Que son fenomenales!

& I wondered who the woman is. Monica Paz visits Europe to teach, and has a website. She was teaching in Brussels in October. It's beginning to seem to me that if you want to meet the older – and younger – traditional dancers from BsAs it's necessary to travel to Europe. There just doesn't seem the interest to get them to the UK.

Here's Monica with Chiche Ruberto; one of my favourite milongas. I notice he dances most of it on his toes, or rather on the balls of his feet. Here's the same milonga with him at Cachirulo with Mirta Tiseyra, which is even more fluent. I like the direct energy of it.

PS> Chiche turned up again three days ago in another of Cachirulo's films, this one from the Tuesday night Cachirulo in El Beso.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Choreographing You

I know 'choreography' isn't a good word in social tango circles: performance of planned, well-rehearsed sequences, danced with great skill and watched by a passive audience, doesn't fit into the free flow of a milonga.

But in the 1960s visual artists and dancers began to see choreography more broadly, looking to renew the sense of the body by intensifying the relation of an 'audience' to the environment, to heighten self-awareness of the body in space and time. Choreographing You (Hayward Gallery, London, till January 12) is about this.

A lot of the show is like a gigantic playground, great fun for physically adventurous and curious people to explore themselves in unexpected physical activities. & at the heart of it, when the fun of tilting platforms, the claustrophobia of enclosed passages, and the effort of negotiating hanging hoops wears off, is a massive archive of dance film, 147 films available to browse. Wide-ranging: among much more, there's film of Jackson Pollock painting, the records of Allan Kaprow's 1960s 'happenings', film of Pina Bausch dancing Cafe Muller, of Trisha Brown improvising a dance/drawing, and of an extraordinary 2½ hour solo performance by La Ribot (I cheated and watched it on fast forward). An archive of film from the 1960s to the present, more than can be watched on a cold London afternoon.

In the end it palls, and it's good to move back to physical engagement with unusual and sometimes challenging environments. If our 'comfort zone' of habitual bodily and mental activities is extended, habitual reserve starts to break down in a way that never happens confronted with a normal exhibition of dance or artwork. It felt cheerful and friendly.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Teteysilvia 2

Silvia's just published another extract from her conversation with Tete here.

You have to scroll down to find the translation: the sense is generally clear, and I think the castellano is fairly straightforward if you need clarification. Tete talks more about the beginnings of salón and the places it was danced, and how it arrived with a time of more relaxed social relations between men and women, this dance in which '...the body is leading, the hands following the body's lead. In this style, so different, the body is fortunate to be able to speak when it comes to dancing'.

Interested to note that the word for an installment is 'una entrega' (i.e., a handing over or delivery).

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Teteysilvia is the blog started recently by Silvia Ceriani as the home for her archive of material from the years she danced with 'Tete' Rusconi. She's recently published her second post, the first part of an interview with Tete dating from 2003, covering his recollections of his early years in tango. Like many of his generation, he starts dancing in neighbourhood clubs at the age of 14, where he's seen tango since he was a child. He practices with friends on the street corners, and when he's 18 he can get into the 'confiterias' and salons, where the tango is 'salon', close embrace.

Probably nothing very new here, but there's more to look forward to. Silvia posts the original castellano with an English translation, so posting involves a fair bit of work and doesn't happen regularly. All thanks to Silvia for this.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Tango warmth

Tango commuting seemed unlikely on Thursday morning after what the heavens dumped on us overnight, and I envisaged a weekend keeping myself warm by working my way through all the videos on the Cachirulo site. But within 24 hours a rail route had opened up and, looking at the cold white all around, the long commute to the warmth of tango seemed a great idea.

YouTube might be a surrogate, but it's valuable. Years ago I had a serious back injury, and was given a fortnight off work. It was late June, and aha! I thought; I'll watch Wimbledon. & I couldn't. Why? Every time someone served, my back ached. I wasn't moving, but my muscles were following the movement, and it hurt. A programme on The Dancer's Body by ex-Royal Ballet principal Deborah Bull a year or so later explained that we understand any movement we watch by following it with our own muscles, and so we learn from watching the few videos there are of great dancers whose practice goes back 50 years. Sure we see where they put their feet, but we learn more than that; we get the 'feel' of their dance in our own bodies. If, that is, we think the tango of 50 years ago is still relevant!

(A correction: I said that before long we'll be uploading 3D videos to Youtube but I'm way behind the times: it's been possible to upload 3D content since July 2009, but you need the right glasses to watch it. But we'll have to wait at least a decade for life-sized moving holographic content...)

& the weekend was warm: we came out of the milonga to find the snow had turned to sleety rain. The power of dance! & the Sunday night had it's own wonderful warmth too. Neither night was crowded... OK, I should explain. Few milongas here are ever crowded in the BsAs sense, but give people room here and like children given a big space after being cooped up all winter, they'll run all over it, and bump into each other. So I should say the milongas were quite empty because of the weather, and it was a good opportunity to try to fit new possibilities to the music. It was useful to explore a much more upright walk and to explore the embrace, without having to take constant evasive action. & of course it was very enjoyable! The warmth continued on the late-night journey home between banks of snow, with Tanturi and Fresedo between my ears. & Monday morning? Ah well, Monday...