Saturday, 25 November 2017


I commented briefly on Gavito dancing Pugliese above, and found several links to statements he made about tango. I also found a link to a book, also available as a download and translated into English a few years ago, based on his recollections and on taped conversations in his final years. He died in 2005.

Of course the book is his recollections, his version, but it gave me something of a new perspective. I always thought he grew up with tango, but it seems clear that this was only partly true. Tango was something he grew into. Most of the ‘older generation’ were born around 1935, turning 13 in 1948 when the predominant dance was still tango, but Gavito was born in 1942, which means that he was 13 in 1955. Although tango was still everywhere, the predominant new culture was rock ‘n' roll, and jive was his first passion: his teenage dance was to Bill Haley and Chubby Checker, and to jazz. ‘Gavito was an impressive dancer: quick, agile, likeable, elegant.’ He grew up as a jazz dancer with a bit of tango and the tango slowly came to predominate after that.

But above all Gavito was a dancer. He danced everything he could, jive, tango, cumbia, folk, latin, flamenco, swing, tap, cumbia, zamba, all forms of social dance. Later he formed companies that travelled the world giving stage performances of a wide range of South American dance, but tango became the highlight. He could dance fast, but claims he never hurried. But as he got older he found himself drawn back to the social tango culture of Buenos Aires, the culture of his parents’ generation, and he slowed down until he became known as ‘the motionless dancer’. ‘Tango is what happens between steps’ he said. His dance and his views on tango expressed that older culture.

He claims to have had teachers of tango – Miguel Caló the musician and Julián Centeya the poet – rather than dance teachers, but he tells a great story about advice given him by ‘Old Márquez’ from Pompeya. ‘I never forgot it... At one point when he was sitting down and I danced past him, he pulled on my jacket and said, ‘Kid, with tango, you have to wait.’ I didn’t know what he meant or why he said it to me. Three years later, I met him when I went dancing in Almagro. I saw him and went up to him and said, ‘Maestro...’ He interrupted me and said, ‘Have you come to ask me what to wait for?’ I was taken aback. What was I supposed to wait for? ‘For the music to reach you and not for you to chase after the music.’

He had a lifetime experience of dance in general, spoke a number of languages from his travels, and was very articulate. As a result he became something of an ambassador for tango, and his teaching was greatly valued. A recollection of his classes in Toronto between 1995 and 2000 gives a good flavour of this. He says: ‘When I am on stage, I play the buffoon. Do not mimic me on the dance floor’ and adds: ‘In Argentina you won’t see people doing a lot of steps. In a dance, three steps is too much.’

There’s also an excellent interview with him from the same period, with a lot of insight into the dance, and an outline of his life.

‘Gavito: A good tango dancer is one who listens to the music. R: Is that the only criteria? Gavito: Yes. We dance the music, not the steps.’

He was a teacher who taught dancing, rather than dance steps. He spent some time in London (he was married to a ballerina from Scotland) and organised a milonga in the 1990s and taught regularly here. It amazes me to think there was a time when you could go to a milonga in London and be greeted by Gavito, while the ladies could expect a dance with him. The current worldwide popularity and spread of tango owes much to him. & he also raised the profile of the older generation of dancers - 'El Flaco' Dany, Osvaldo and Coca, 'El Nene' Masci, Tete, Puppy Castello - by inviting them to dance at his Buenos Aires milongas.

It’s unwise to try to summarise a whole life, particularly one as varied as that of Gavito, in a few paragraphs based on partial evidence. I hope I haven’t misrepresented him.

Many of the available videos are of Gavito 'playing the buffoon', but some of the more recent videos of classes, particularly with Maria Plazaola, are excellent, such as this one. Probably the best is the famous 'Nobody can teach you the feeling' video, a good flavour of the dancer and the teaching.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

One-metre Pugliese 2

I’ve edited the earlier post on Alberto Dassieu, changing the embedded video for another I preferred. And soon after I wrote it I discovered that several of the videos I linked to were unavailable in France. I hope some clips Alberto and Paulina are available there: it’s most likely a copyright issue with Pugliese’s music. Fortunately that’s not a problem here.

In any case, that post was incomplete. I started writing about dancing to Pugliese and found myself writing about Alberto. But Alberto didn’t only dance Pugliese, and of course he wasn’t the only person of his generation to dance Pugliese. The orquesta continued to play as much as possible, despite government persecution of Pugliese himself through much of the lifetime of Alberto’s generation. Pugliese was a hero for many, he stood for freedom at a dark time, and was imprisoned for his political views. You couldn’t expect a quiet life, perhaps you couldn’t even expect a life if you were openly communist in South America in the 1970s – 80s. He was brave and he survived.

It was a great pleasure to find a few clips of Pugliese danced by Alberto’s contemporaries. I hope there are more, as dancing to Pugliese is an important topic! I’d really like to find more, but I think the few I’ve linked here give a good idea of how Pugliese is danced by the generation that once danced live to the orquesta.

First, Beba Pugliese with Jorge Firpo. Beba was Pugliese’s daughter, growing up with his music, with the orquesta rehearsing in the house. She still directs her own orquesta from the piano, like her father, and she also dances. Here are Beba Pugliese and Jorge Firpo. & here she is directing the Orquesta Beba Pugliese from the piano in La Yumba.

The late Enriqueta Kleinman with Nestor La Vitola dance to Pugliese's Don Augustin Bardi. There are several other good clips of Nestor La Vitola dancing Pugliese with other partners, all well worth checking out.

Gavito danced Pugliese a lot, but sadly most clips are of his show dance, although he came from much the same background as Ricardo Vidort and other tangueros of that generation. I think I once found a very indistinct clip of Gavito dancing in a milonga in Club Gricel, but mostly you’ll see Gavito and partner on stage in a near-horizontal line. This clip shows him dancing with a very young-looking Maria Plazaola, perhaps around 2002 when she started to dance with him and before he fell ill. It’s a class demo to Pugliese, showing class material, and probably the nearest to how they might have danced in a milonga.

But my favourite Pugliese clip is of Ismael Heljalil dancing in Lo de Celia. It’s particularly valuable as it shows Pugliese danced in a crowded milonga, Pugliese in the real world, if you regard the milonga as the real world of tango. It’s marvellous how they move in a limited space as a single unit, inseparable from the music, echoing in dance its sinuous line and energy, rising and falling back. There’s no ‘style’, no decoration, to get in the way of dance, there’s just music, a couple, and fluent, calm, energetic movement. It’s minimal, intense and beautiful. Dancing the music, not the steps! & certainly the closest I’ve found to one-metre Pugliese.

Isa Negra also uploaded a track of the same couple dancing Di Sarli. I was also delighted to find a clip of Ismael Heljalil dancing a whole tanda of great vals tracks in the much-missed Maipu 444 more than a decade ago. Jantango uploaded a 15-minute talk in Spanish by Ismael, introduced by a short section of dance. A pity there aren’t more clips like this, but we’re lucky to have these and a few more. A real inspiration.