Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Pina Bausch company in London, June 2012

The programme for the Pina Bausch company in London, June 2012, is here. You can book there as well. Book, now, for June 2012? Yes!

Putting on 10 major productions in one month... It's a company that doesn't believe in half measures.

Emilio Balcarce 1918 - 2011

I've enjoyed the documentary Si sos brujo very greatly, and in particular the modest, enthusiastic and very youthful presence of Emilio Balcarce, so I was very saddened to read this in the most recent edition Nº 207 of Tito Palumbo's B.A. TANGO. I hope I can quote it:

Emilio Balcarce (b. Emilio Juan Sitano) on January 19, at the age of 92. Composer, violinist, bandoneonista, arranger and conductor. In 1939 and then in 1947 he conducted the orquesta that had Alberto Marino as singer. Later, he was part of the Edgardo Donato, Luis Moresco and Manuel Buzón orquestas. In 1949 he organised an orquesta that accompanied Alberto Castillo. Later that year he joined the orquesta of Osvaldo Pugliese, where he stayed for almost 20 years until the separation of a group of a group of musicians that formed the Sexteto Tango in 1968. He composed La bordona, Si sos brujo, Bien compadre, Mi lejana Buenos Aires, Qué habrá sido de Lucía, among others. He travelled far, in America, Europe and Asia. Since 2000 he dedicated himself to teaching as director of the Orquesta Escuela de Tango de la ciudad de Buenos Aires, which was renamed in his honour in 2007 when he retired, and it was in this capacity that he took part in the documentary, Si sos brujo. He also took part in the show and film, Café de los Maestros.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Change roles, please!

I danced recently with a young woman from Buenos Aires who started tango just last summer, and spoke excellent English. An interesting perspective on learning, from someone who came to it recently, but in that dream place where the milongas never cease. Reminded me that someone challenged me a while back to come up with a better format for classes. My only qualification is that I have have survived a wide range of them...

The obvious candidate is traditional: guys learn by dancing with each other. I'm not sure there's any reason why that should be a perfect model for us: social circumstances change. This has been tried in London: I've been to workshops where it was men-only for the first hour, and then the women came in for the second hour. It didn't really feel as if worked that well.

People often complain about 'steps', but we can't avoid them. Even walking involves steps! Tete taught 'steps', so did Ricardo Vidort. It's how they are taught that matters. What happens in most mass classes is that cause and effect get separated. Typically, the male teacher takes the men to learn the men's role, while the female teacher teaches the women their role. In other words, the cause, the lead, is separated from the effect, since the effect is learned separately. This works well in big classes since the results are obvious during the class. Unfortunately, this doesn't translate into good dancing with other partners in milongas. Leaders struggle to repeat choreographies they've learned in classes and fail to take account of other dancers around them.

Of course, tango can be taught in small fragments, steps, which can be strung together in classes, much as they would be strung together in a milonga. But one way of reconnecting cause and effect might be for the teachers, around half way through the class, to say 'Change roles, please!' instead of 'Change partners please!' Five or 10 minutes of aimiable chaos might ensue, but that doesn't necessarily harm a class, and it's just possible that a new mutual understanding of how tango can work might arise. Women are often curious about the lead, without wanting to be leaders, and it's always been said that you dance better if you understand the other half.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Osvaldo Centeno again

I admit that the connection between some rather North-American-sounding books on the virtues of hard work, and Osvaldo Centeno dancing tango were fairly tenuous, although I've no doubt that he and many others did get through 10,000 hours pretty quickly: that's four or five milongas a week for seven years at most. Enjoyment and a passion for tango is the key, rather than wanting to be 'good at it' and, as Ms.H points out, one can dance perfectly well with fewer hours. However, another video of Osvaldo has just appeared from Cachirulo. I don't think anyone is likely to dance like this without quite a few years at milongas.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Osvaldo Centeno and 10,000 hours

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success suggests that 10,000 hours' practice is the key to success in any field; 20 hours a week for 10 years. Matthew Syed's book, Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice reinforces this. If you tell kids, or any students, that they are 'talented' you suggest they don't need to work hard. But of course, no one works hard if they're not enthusiastic. We often ask 'How long have you danced tango?' where 'How many hours have you clocked up, to date?' might be more appropriate. At a rough estimate, I've got about 6,000 hours ahead of me: being a tango commuter limits the hours available.

It's strange to think of the 'old milongueros' as teenagers, desperate to reach 18 so that they could get into the milongas and dance the smooth, perhaps revolutionary dance of 60 years ago, milonguero/salon. Enthusiastic, they must have passed 10,000 hours by their early 20s. One of these is Osvaldo Centeno, the latest in Practimilonguero's great series of interviews and dances. His account of how he learnt the cabeceo is wonderful, as is his description of the tango police patrolling the dance floor and throwing out anyone aged under 18: it's great that the interviews are now longer and give time for these insights. Curious that so many 'milongueros' were born around 1935. & so many of them define tango as 'pasión': I wonder if this means extreme enthusiasm, which we express by the rather negative word, 'addiction'.

Osvaldo Centeno's dance is worlds away from the cloned elegance of too many younger dancers and teachers. His Troilo is a revelation; I wonder if Troilo is an acid test for tangueros. Like the dance of all his generation, it's totally individual, reflecting his own nature, as well as the circumstances he learned and danced in. I could recognise him immediately on a dance floor by the way he moves. 10,000 hours, and no shortcuts.

Saturday, 7 May 2011


Back in the mid-1980s, when UK TV still showed contemporary dance, I watched Cafe Muller, fascinated, on a small, black-and-white TV; Pina Bausch dancing with those extraordinarily expressive arms. It seemed too 'angst-focused', the dancers throwing themselves at the walls, the floor, the furniture and each other, but it imprinted itself irrevocably on my memory. I tried to book twice for Bausch company performances at Sadlers Wells, always too late to get a seat, even six weeks before a performance.

3D is a revelation in Pina. Dance is physical, Pina Bausch dance is particularly physical, and 3D conveys physicality, the roundness of the body, and the space surrounding it. You get even more than the best seat, since the camera follows performers around onstage. Sometimes it's filmed in the theatre: extracts from Rite of Spring are featured at the start, and the impact of moving bodies, in both tight and open groups, really is palpable. Elsewhere, the industrial landscape of Wuppertal is the background, including the wonderful, futuristic overhead railway, and 3D brings out the vulnerability, strength, weakness, sexiness, grace, elegance, power of the human body against these backgrounds.

Dancers weren't Pina Bausch's marionettes. Her work seems to have come from questioning and challenging them, as much from them as from her; from their desires, fears, joys, loves, hatreds, too, and from their intelligence and humour and creativity. We meet them close up: they talk about her, to her, they remember her, they create brief performances for her. 'She told us to keep on searching. & so you keep on searching, never knowing what you are looking for, or whether you are on the right track.'

She met 'Tete' Rusconi in BsAs, and immediately found herself dancing tango. He and Silvia were invited to Wuppertal, and added their experience of dance to a new production. There's nothing of this in Pina but there is one tango, La Cachilla, written and performed (it says) by Eduardo Arolas, but the recording sounds more recent, and I've been unable to find an Arolas recording of it. But the dance isn't tango: it's a man, dressed in a ballerina's dress, trying to perform a ballerina's step and repeatedly falling over, while being pushed along a dark, graffiti-scrawled train tunnel on a flat railway bogie. It's funny, absurd, and touching, too, as is the dance of the hippo monster and the ballerina in mid-river...

'I'm not interested in how people move but in what moves them' she said. You could think of that in connection with tango, too, couldn't you?

Extracts from Kontakthof, meeting place, the dance hall, are also featured, dramatising the rituals of the social dance, as well as the many layers of fears, desires and fantasies beneath it; written for performance by two 'teams' of ordinary people, teenagers and over-65s. Pina also shows extracts from Vollmond (Full Moon) with the astonishing rainstorm, and some of the most ecstatic dancing I've ever seen. It really is staggering to watch dance at this level, at this intensity, from so close.

To some degree I judge work by the extent to which it changes the way I see the world I emerge into: children and parents moving in the streets, the spaces you walk through, even the pigeons strutting and the airplanes overhead, it all seemed part of a dance, because her dance doesn't seem to be some world apart, but it is in us, it's our own fears and love.

The website for Pina with a (2D) trailer is here. There will be a Pina Bausch retrospective in London in June and July 2012 as a highlight of the Cultural Olympiad preceding the 2012 Olympic Games.