Sunday, 22 January 2012

Roberto Firpo

I posted here about the photo of Roberto Firpo's quintet (or sextet, since it's not really possible to work out the role of the sixth person, singer or musician) in a recording studio. He's not played much in milongas these days: Pedro gave me a compilation CD a few years ago, and that's when I first listened to his music. He lived 1884 – 1969, a close contemporary of Canaro, and made a huge number of recordings with his orquestas, so he must have sold well, but not a lot has been re-released. According to Todotango, from childhood he worked at anything he could to save 200 pesos to buy himself a piano, and said the day he bought it was the happiest day of his life.

This track at the end of CD 1 of the Grandes del Tango Roberto Firpo double CD really caught my ear! (The link opens a player in another website.) Solo piano, and more wistful, measured and melancholic than recordings I've listened to with his orquesta, perhaps more personal. The music somehow reminds me of a Haydn sonata, even simple Chopin, and the playing makes the structure of the music very clear. But somehow it also has an overtone of early jazz, Scott Joplin perhaps, who died in 1917. The rhythm is habanera, the milonga-like beat of early tango, but the playing is more romantic in style than early tango. A fascinating, elegant piece of music.

A while back I talked with a young BsAs musician and told her that my love of tango music seemed strange to me, given that I used to listen only to jazz and baroque. 'But there's a lot of connection between tango and baroque!' she replied immediately. 'Think about it!' Well, I've thought about it ever since without being quite sure what she was talking about until I heard this track. Tango orchestration might have the energy and sound and emotional charge of late 19th century opera, but perhaps she meant that the structure of the music is simpler and older, like an old house with a grand late-19th century facade.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Milonga watching 2

A quick note: I'm simply trying to describe as accurately as I can my impressions of BsAs milongas. I don't intend any of this as a criticism of London or any other milongas. & perhaps the best way to describe the (few) Buenos Aires milongas I've enjoyed is to say that they are socially laid-back and slightly formal. The dancing, and the brief conversations between tangos, are the focus. I guess that public dances always used to be a bit formal, and something of that spirit persists.

When you first arrive at (say) El Beso and start watching the dance, the quality of it seems overwhelming. It's excellent; these are all people who've danced a lot. But after watching for a while the eye begins to filter out the dancers. Not all the older tangueros are marvellous, some of them could be relative beginners, but those whose tango ancestry goes back to childhood begin to stand out. They are both energetic and relaxed, easy and sure of themselves, they have nothing to prove. They are all different, of course. Pedro keeps his feet busy without doing anything that looks particularly complicated, although he's totally assured, but he expresses the music with his upper body: partners who've danced with him tell me that there's a constant flow of emotion from his upper body. Another older guy dances with a smile: perhaps there's an element of wit in his dance as his partners laugh for no apparent reason other than that his feet might have led them somewhere unexpected. Another leads effortlessly a range of movement that always looks fresh and new. Alberto Dassieu leads a dance with a lot of style, and uses pauses and changes of speed, as well as a lot of upper-body movement. & so on, there are others. They are individual. & everyone from that background can effortlessly and comfortably fit plenty of dance into the tightest of spaces as a matter of course, where I'm challenged to keep moving at all.

Beyond this handful of giants, you start to notice a younger generation, late twenties onwards I suppose. They are fluent and move well, with good posture, which is initially impressive, but then perhaps you start to notice they repeat much the same dance in the same way, tanda after tanda, to different orquestas, and perhaps it's a bit breathless, a bit tense. I start to get the impression that many of the younger dancers are following patterns of steps they've learned: I start to recognise sequences of steps strung together, the salida, the giro, which I don't notice so much with the older dancers. Perhaps the older dancers think of their dance step by step, rather than in sequences of steps; this may be the secret of keeping moving in a confined space. & the dance of the younger generation is a lot less individual: they look much more alike.

Some younger dancers have mastered whole styles: I do a continuous double-take at 'Los Gavitos'. They do the master's dance really well, left and right hands raised high, the guy's left wrist twisted over, and their dance is very accomplished, but it's on the edge of looking like parody: it's not quite theirs, it doesn't have the instinctive naturalness of the tango of the older generation. Other younger dancers seem too fluent for their own good: the leaders can fit in eight consecutive giros, so they do, whether it seems to suit the music or not (perhaps whether their partner likes it or not). And of course there are a few younger dancers who look just great, and you can't help feeling that their emotional response to the music, excellent posture, relaxed physicality, and easy spontaneous movement will just continue to look better and better.

All that, of course, is how you think when you look at it from the outside. What really sticks, what really matters, is how relaxed, warm and affectionate milongas can feel. I'm probably naïve in finding it utterly entrancing to experience tango like that: perhaps there are layers of competitiveness, aggression and duplicity there that I don't notice, but I'd like to doubt it.

Pina Bausch told her dancers 'Dance for love!' What better reason, what other reason, can there be to dance tango?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Milonga watching 1

Some scattered observations and generalisations. A big one to start with: Buenos Aires milongas seem to be a lot cooler than the (few) London milongas I get to, but at the same time the dancing is a lot more emotionally intense. Isn't it true that in London – and probably in Europe – we go at milongas like there's no tomorrow? It's party time! Dance till you drop! We – or at any rate a lot of dancers; it's as if we want to dance every dance and then some more. The festivals give us the chance to dance practically non-stop all weekend. Our enthusiasm is marvellous.

Buenos Aires milongas feel more like places where people hang out, sit around with a drink, whether a glass of red wine or a shared bottle of champagne, maybe have supper with partners or friends, greet friends and chat, watch the dancing, dance for a while. I've seen Pedro, for instance, dance nearly every tanda for several hours, but on another evening he'll sit at the back, watch, chat with friends, dance maybe just one or two tandas. Milongas tend to last around six hours, some a bit longer, a few are shorter: six until midnight, ten until four am, and so on. People drop by for a few hours, maybe more, and there's an hour or two later on when everyone's on the floor. Milongas really feel like a way of life, a part of ordinary life rather than climactic weekly events, perhaps because they go on for a relatively long time and because there are a lot of them. I wonder if we'll start to use milongas like this in London in the years to come, as sort of a facility that's always around, rather than unique, striking events that you've got to make the most of while they last. It's an agreeably relaxed approach which I find I'm very comfortable with. So you sit and watch for a few hours, see a few friends and enjoy some dances. If you didn't get the dances you wanted, well, there's always tomorrow or next week.

At the same time the quality of dance can be really intense. The embrace can look (and feel) incredibly warm, affectionate, tender, even between total strangers. The strict form of the cabeceo probably helps here: for a lady, there's no way the guy you danced it with can follow you back to your table and try to chat you up. (However, cards with email addresses are passed around, and are really useful.) I think that emotional quality is quite rare in London dance, and I wonder if it's a consequence of the strict form of cabeceo. I can't help noticing that almost all the very intense dances I've had have been with partners who are from Buenos Aires, and I suspect that this is how they like, and expect, to dance with local guys. (You might dance a good part of a tanda before you find where your partner is from, so it's not just imagination.) Dances I've had with other visitors tend to feel slightly more casual, impersonal, by comparison.

I've never been really certain what they mean when they say 'Tango is a feeling' but I imagine it might well be a feeling of an intense tenderness. Perhaps it's 'entrega', the feeling of losing yourself in another person, as if the sense of ego vanishes into the music, the movement, the partner, the floor.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Tango stories 4

There's good music on Monday night at Salon Canning. Sylvia often finds great versions of songs you know well, by orquestas you can't place. You think: ah! I know Troilo's version of this – but who is this playing it? She always plays a great tanda of Carabelli too, and tops it all off with an extraordinary range of cortinas. Inevitably Lady Day, but Amy Winehouse too, and the widest possible range of rock, and even flamenco, all wonderful and usually unknown stuff, unknown to me and probably to a great many other people too I'm sure, and carefully fitted into the flow of tango. Makes a change from the run-of-the-mill cortinas most DJs play. Interesting what can happen when someone gives the cortinas some attention, rather than treating them as a fill-in between tandas.

But recently Monday night at Salon Canning seems to have become a couples night, not entirely, but turning up looking for a dance or two isn't great. I'm more used to El Beso nights, where couples are few and almost everyone goes ready to dance with almost everyone else, and where the floorcraft is good and there's really a 'buena onda'. On the floor at Canning there are show dancers and beginners mixed in with good dancers and some excellent older guys: Canning can be like that. A local so-called teacher takes a big step backwards and onto my partner's foot, and just dances off as if nothing happened. Despite the music it's all a bit distant.

The taxi driver who drives me home is a relief. A rich, friendly voice with an impenetrably thick accent: he says he was from Uruguay. My ears struggle to get even the gist, but it doesn't worry him. I feel like Spanish visitor to the UK encountering a Highlander. Talking is an art form for some people, and he's certainly one; even his inevitable life story, and how 'la crisis' (2001) changed his life, sounds like a wonderful poetic saga, and has probably been retold and refined like a saga too. I can't make much more than the simplest observations, and find myself immediately understood as if I've been part of a dialogue all along. The will to communicate creates communication.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Andrea Misse

From El Tangauta 02/01/2012:

'With deep sadness we communicate that Andrea Misse died today in a car accident in La Pampa. Javier Rodriguez also reported that her husband and her baby are in critical condition.'

PS: I hear that her husband and two year-old daughter are now off the critical list.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy 2012!

Peace, love and tango in 2012.

'Dance for love!' - Pina Bausch