Saturday, 29 October 2011

Areas of darkness

So a few of the most notorious of Argentine murderers have finally been found guilty, more than thirty years after their crimes. (BBC)

The dark past is only slowly receding. A recent story in a UK newspaper: police burst in on an Argentine man in his early 30s in Buenos Aires. They had come to take his DNA. Not that he was suspected of anything criminal, but he had been adopted in the late 1970s, and the Argentine state now has power to take DNA to establish the real identity of anyone adopted during 'the Process'. His worst fears were confirmed: his parents had been murdered in the ESMA centre after his birth there, and he had been adopted, to be brought up in a true Christian and catholic tradition, rather than the socialist tradition of his birth parents. (Irony wasn't a stong point of the military.) He was told his birth name, but he's currently going through the courts to be allowed to retain his adopted name as he believes his adoptive parents acted in good faith. Adoption can be difficult in the best of circumstances, and these must be the worst.

I read this story about the same time as Tangocherie posted about Dark Tangos by American author Lewis Shiner. He's made it available for free (link on Tangocherie). (In fact he's made all his novels available for free: I wonder what his publishers think of that.) I was immediately gripped when I read his description of a demonstration over the 'disappearance' of Jorge López just hours before he was due to give his final testimony against a former police chief accused of running one of the detention centres. This must have happened about a year before my first visit to the city. I heard the story of López when I took the tour of the ESMA centre in 2008. I was shocked: I thought people 'disappearing' was all in the past. Later, I found everywhere a little spray graffiti, a blank facial area beneath a cloth cap: López, a bricklayer by trade, had worn such a cap. Like other old political graffiti it's a simple and haunting image.

ESMA, where around 5,000 people were killed, is now one of the centres for researching and remembering every last detail of what took place during the 'dirty war' in the hope that, by remembering, such events can never recur. We were also told that no one from the armed forces has ever broken ranks to testify in court. The will and the money are still there to intimidate witnesses – and to make them disappear.

It's a reminder that despite the very normal appearance of the city and the wonderful milongas, just below the surface there are areas of darkness. Many people suffered terrible loss, and if you've been there you might well have danced with them. I believe that only a few of the oppressors – among them torturers and murderers – have ever appeared in court: the human rights movement has identified them, but they remain free, if now ageing. Unlikely, but you might have met them too, or passed by them in the streets.

Friday, 28 October 2011

It's only a dance...

Melina Sedo said it of tango, but I wonder...

'Only a dance': isn't dance important? At some point in time humans found they could make marks that resembled things they saw around them, and they also found they could communicate with movement, playful movement without the urgency of fleeing rabid wolves, and we've done these things ever since. Birds, bees and some mammals dance to communicate. Dance brings order and regularity and mindfulness into the chaos of movement, and we value it for that.

A good friend I dance with whenever I can works in a bank, of which she says that anyone who works in a bank, herself excepted of course, must be either stupid or crazy. 'I read an article that said there are many psychopaths working in the City: it's true! My office is full of them! I told them all one day, 'You should all learn to dance tango!' and they looked at me as if I was crazy!' I'd guess she's not the only tanguero out there to think their office would be better off if everyone went out to milongas in the evenings. (Not sure the milongas would be better, but give it time.) & that quote from Moliere: 'All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing'. Maybe spoken by a dance teacher and intended as a comic exaggeration, but there's a kind of exasperated truth about it. The world certainly wouldn't be worse if everyone danced more. Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozi after a day's heated debate on the Euro... Yes! Give it a whirl: why not?

But tango adds the embrace to the great enjoyment of moving to music. People pay to go to hugging workshops because enjoying the touch of other humans makes them feel better. Hugs lower blood pressure and reduce stress, while oxytocin, a hormone that triggers caring and bonding responses in men and women, is released. It's why some think of tango as healing. And of course Ricardo Vidort said that 'Tango is a therapy for the soul', a grand statement, but he'd lived with tango much longer than any of us are likely to.

This apparently chance discovery by the good citizens of Buenos Aires, partly as a result of dance floors that were too small, and driven by an irresistible music, still has plenty in it to make us all feel good and more human. Did their 20-year tango fiesta/party help them? Politically things fell apart badly after 1955, but I think the problem was just that not enough people were dancing.

It's not that dance is unimportant; the problem is that not enough people think that dance is important.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Tango Your Life

Chan Park ('Practimilongueros') writes:

I submitted the film Tango Your Life along with its trailer to ArcLight Documentary Film Festival. The selection will be made based on how many 'likes' the trailer receives from the YouTube audience. Please go to this page and give your support by clicking on 'like'.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Beware gilded suitcases...

I've just watched the BBC film about the Rostropovitch, which gives a great sense of the passionate physicality of the person and his musically extraordinary playing: well worth watching. I remembered the one occasion I heard him live, in 1988, immediately after the Armenian earthquake that killed up to 45,000. He was from neighbouring Azerbaijan, and organised a concert literally overnight in central London in support of the relief efforts, and to commemorate the suffering. He played the Bach unaccompanied cello concertos and insisted that there should be no applause. It was an incredibly sombre, moving concert.

He also taught in Moscow before being driven into exile. Two English ex-students noted that he seldom talked about technique in his classes: he preferred to concentrate on the music itself. They told how there was a technically gifted student who took their breath away with the skill of his playing. But Rostropovitch wasn't impressed. After the student finished he said, 'I want you to imagine the most beautiful suitcase in the world... You can't imagine how beautiful it is. It's got incredible gold buckles on it … Now, take it! Take it! Put your hands out! Take it!' The student was bewildered but put out his hands and took the imaginary suitcase. 'Now, open it!' said Rostropovitch. '& what's inside of it? Nothing! That's you. You can do everything on the surface: it's all brilliant, but you haven't got any ideas inside you.' As the students said, it was a devastating analogy.

Rostropovitch also said that you don't play music for the audience: you play it for yourself. Sadly, the film is no longer available for viewing, but it's a great treasure if you ever get a chance to see it.

(A while back, Tangocommuter was taken to task for saying that musicality is more important than technique, and there were complaints about my objection to classes in stage tango being advertised as 'tango technique' classes. So I'd better be careful here and point out that the above stories have nothing whatsoever to do with tango. Obviously.)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Un montón de milongas

I was just about to post this when I noticed Elizabeth's posting.

There's a huge cache of clips, about an hour of film, of BsAs milongas on Muller Patricia's YouTube channel, posted five months ago and labelled as 'Viejos Milongueros'. Apparently they date back to the 90s. I dashed in, hoping to find Ricardo Vidort, Muma, Portalea, Gavito, Tete, Elba Biscay... and was sadly disappointed. They show BsAs milongas all right, but the dance is the dance of people who enjoy social tango, although from what little I've seen perhaps it's not the tango of Lo de Celia or El Beso, or of what I think of as the 'old milongueros'. However, every now and again a couple slips past the camera with such easy grace that you think, 'Who was that?' Lively, good-natured social milongas – and good lighting too!

If anyone watches Osvaldo Natucci on Practimilongueros, be warned: there's a slight mistranslation. He divides dancers into artisans and aficionados, but the subtitles translate 'aficionados' as 'amateurs', which is misleading as it can suggest people who aren't very good at something. I think he'd call dancers like the social dancers in Muller Patricia's clips 'aficionados', rather than artisans, who are a bit more obsessive about their dance.

If anyone watches through all that film and comes across any of the 'greats', do let me know. I recognise one venue, La Ideal, and possibly one or two others, but I think there's film from several more. Patricia asks for any information anyone might have about the milongas and the people.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Osvaldo Natucci, part 2

The second part of Osvaldo Natucci's Practimilongueros interview is here.

I wondered why his name was familiar, and then realised I read about him in Tango and Chaos a few years back: he spent some years working as an industrial engineer in Spain – the dangerous years one would assume. (That page has a very interesting account not only of Natucci teaching, but also of Celia Blanco teaching, Celia of the Lo de Celia milonga.)

Natucci confirms that the way of learning these days must be different to how it was when he learned. In the years of the 'tango fiesta', the tango party years between 1935 and 1955, there was such a tango saturation that going to formal classes was truly redundant. There are still people like him around, who heard the music from before birth since it was always on the radio, and learned the dance as they learned to walk, but these days, he says, we need classes: the question is, what needs to be taught, and how. & what shouldn't be taught!

I think there's a subtle problem with classes: the idea of a class suggests a topic that can be learned within a finite timespan, whereas I don't think tango can be acquired like that. You can't do a course of ten or 20 classes and 'learn tango'. I enjoyed the long BsAs classes because they are as much practica as class, because there was an emphasis on basics like walking, and because there was a lot of dancing. & material was taught, which might or might not be new. I noticed even proficient dancers came regularly to these classes, relaxed and enjoyable classes, and always useful. But never the suggestion that this is the cure to tango ignorance, just an aid to the endless improvement of the craft. Natucci distinguishes the tango amateurs from the tango artisans, and becoming a tango artisan means work to improve the craft, rather than mastering a syllabus.

Here's a brief guide to what shouldn't be taught!

Animation by Yatango.