Alfredo Rodríguez: A Little Piece of Cuba in Philadelphia

Alfredo Rodríguez, jazz pianist, was born in Havana, Cuba and his music explodes with Cuban passion, and is infused with its influences. In a video for “Havana Culture,” he says: “El cubano lleva la música adentro y la música está en todos lados.” (Cubans have music within them and music is all over).  He began his studies at the Manuel Saumell music school for students between 7-10 years. Eventually, he caught the “ear” of Quincy Jones and left Cuba in 2009 to make a career in the United States.

The Annenberg Center Live presents a Cuba Festival this Spring in Philadelphia. On April 5, 2018, The Alfredo Rodríguez Trio, composed of piano, drums and bass guitar, improvised on familiar Cuban melodies, such as Guantanamera, and original pieces, such as Bloom. Other songs included: Thriller, Bésame mucho, Yemayá, and Ay Mama Inés. 

The origins of jazz include improvisation and the making of music in the moment. The musicians do not use scores and each performance will be different. They work together to invent new ways of playing and making variations on a melody, and not on preparing a written score to present as “the composer” intended.  In addition to rousing variations and solos by all three instrumentalists, they encouraged audience participation in singing a repeating 10 pitch melody on a syllable, and the chorus of Guantanamera. It was fun to sing and it reinforced the act of music making as a collaborative improvisational event. As an audience member I wasn’t just sitting and listening passively, but creating with them.

Alfredo Rodriguez. Annenberg

I was most impressed by Rodriguez’ solo piano composition, Bloom. Most of the other pieces were loud in dynamics, very percussive and rhythmic. In contrast, this lovely soothing melody ethereally emanated from Rodríguez. Here is a version on an electric piano:

Without any sort of backdrop or screen with images on it, I was transported by the music of The Alberto Rodriguez Trio. In Yemayá, I imagined the goddess in her blue, floating on the sea, to the trills in the piano, and suddenly louder more marked chords, perhaps signal the entrance of Changó. Thriller invoked Michael Jackson and his monsters in a playful way, while Bésame mucho and Ay, Mama Inés, were an opportunity to combine latin sounds and rhythm with jazz for a cool performance.

It was easy to imagine the couples dancing to Ay Mama Inés. Fittingly, the trio ended the 100 minute concert with Guantanamera. Guantanamera,  no matter how it is played, is a hymn to Cuba and all things Cuban. It always reminds me of José Martí as well as the island, strength and simplicity, and the Cuban people. The enthusiastic audience applauded with a standing ovation.  

For more information about Alberto Rodríguez, see his website or Facebook page.  Visit AnnenbergCenter.org for a list of upcoming events this season.

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Tarsila! Discovering the “Mother of Brazilian Art” at the MOMA in New York City.

A few children, from 7 to 9 years old, obviously part of a class, sat on the floor in front of the painting, “Composition (Lonely Figure),” by the great Brazilian artist, Tarsila do Amaral. Their teacher gave them instructions about what to draw and write in their notebooks. What a lovely sight to see these children having an art class at MOMA! (Museum of Modern Art, NYC).

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Students of all ages, senior citizens, young adults, Brazilians, Americans, and tourists from many different countries packed the galleries. The work of the “Tarsila” had finally arrived at MOMA in New York.

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I saw some of her paintings in São Paulo in 2014. I really liked the museums in São Paulo, MASP and the Pinotecas. (You can read about some other impressions on Brazilian art that I saw in São Paulo on deslumbrar). MOMA and the Chicago Art Institute collaborated on this initiative.

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What I liked most about this exhibition was seeing Tarsila’s originals close up, and also reliving memories of Brazil. Each of her paintings invokes Brazilian culture and triggers saudade. And that’s really what she wanted. When she was living abroad, she began to identify more as a Brazilian and she wrote:

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One thing that I just don’t understand, and I don’t agree with, is the “English Only” of some museums. This is not only an issue I have with MOMA, since I have also experienced this at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For this Tarsila exhibition, all of the labels and the audio guide were written in English. Of course, the audience for the exhibit is comprised of Americans from the United States, but in my opinion, it should have been bilingual, in Portuguese and English. There are some things that are difficult to translate, and would be helpful to have an explanation in Portuguese (or the language of the artist). In addition, in the audio guide there was an error in the pronunciation of “Sono”. Instead of saying “sono” the voice said “sonho,” which means “dream” in English. This completely confuses the meaning of Tarsila’s “O sono” (Sleep). Another advantage of a bilingual show is that it is accessible to more people. A bilingual exhibition of Tarsila’s work, which is important for Brazil and the rest of the Portuguese speaking countries, would have reached out as a “welcome” to Portuguese speaking people.

That, however, is a minor criticism. The exhibition is worth seeing, even in English. I adored looking at all of her pieces displayed, from the unknown sketches in graphite and ink on paper, to the huge canvasses in oil, for which Tarsila is most famous.

This is not an “objective” analysis or a pseudo-academic text. MOMA has already published the coffee table book and everyone can purchase that in the museum bookstore. You can also check out the interview with Caetano Veloso on youtube.com that MOMA presented, or do a Google search of all the criticism of the show by the famous art history experts. I prefer to offer a few observations and reactions to my favorite works.

First, as an artist, I really admire that Tarsila signed her pieces with only her first name. There’s this idea among artists in the United States, that if you are a “serious” artist, you need to sign with your last name. Tarsila proves this WRONG.

Tarsila painted Brazilian subjects, and she started, along with her husband, Oswald de Andrade, and other artists of different types (Mário de Andrade, Anita Malfatti, etc.) the Cannibalism Movement, Movimento Antropófago, and Modernism in São Paulo. Tarsila traveled to Paris in order to continue her art studies, and also around Brazil. In Brazil, Tarsila was inspired by various native subjects. She painted animals, landscapes, cityscapes, human figures, almost human figures, and nature. Overall, she used a non-realistic approach that encompassed surrealism, cubism, futurism and everything else that was going on at the time.

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Born in 1886, on a plantation in São Paulo, she captures nature in a raw fashion. Cartão postal, (PostCard) has the same elements that you find in typical postcards of Brazil: palm trees, other tropical trees, animals, houses, fruit, water and hills. It is interesting that she mixes semi-tropical, desert plants with the water (river/sea). It’s as if this post card isn’t just to represent the popular tropical panorama, but also that of Brazil’s rugged and barren interior, o sertão.

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“O sono” (Sleep) sticks in my head because of its surrealism mixed with the Brazilian landscape—the simple and essential palm tree.

The last work that one sees before leaving the gallery, is Operários from 1933. This is a representation of different phenotypes of Brazilians and urban factories.

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The exhibition of Tarsila do Amaral’s work is at the MOMA in New York City, through June 3, 2018. For more information: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/3871

Tarsila! Descobrindo a mãe da arte brasileira em MOMA

Umas crianças dos 7 a 9 anos, obviamente parte de uma turma escolar, se sentaram no chão em frente do quadro “Composição (Figura Só)” da grande artista brasileira, Tarsila do Amaral. Sua professora lhes dava instruções sobre o que fazer com seus cadernos de desenho. Que lindo ver aqueles meninos tendo uma aula de arte no MOMA! (Museum of Modern Art, NYC)

 

 

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Dentro das salas lotadas, não somente circulavam alunos de todas as idades, mas também, idosos, adultos, brasileiros, americanos dos Estados Unidos, e turistas de vários países. A obra da artista brasileira, Tarsila, finalmente chegou ao MOMA de Nova Iorque!

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Eu vi algumas das peças dela em São Paulo em 2014. Gostei muito dos museus de São Paulo, MASP e as Pinotecas. Eu fui em uma quarta-feira, no 28 de março de 2018, para vivienciá-la em Nova Iorque. O MOMA e o Chicago Art Institute colaboraram para fazer esta iniciativa. Especificamente, Luis Pérez-Oramas e Stephanie D’Alessandro prepararam e organizaram a exposição, com ajuda de Karen Grimson.

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O que mais gostei desta exposicão foi a oportunidade de ver a sua obra original na minha frente e ao mesmo tempo reviver meus momentos no Brasil. Cada quadro de Tarsila invoca um aspeto da cultura brasileira, e inspira a saudade. E isso o que ela queria, porque quando estava fora do Brasil, começou a sentir-se ainda mais brasileira e disse:

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Uma coisa que não entendo (e não gosto) de alguns museus, é o monolinguismo. E não é só MOMA que faz isso. Para esta mostra de arte, todas as inscrições (menos os títulos das obras) e a áudio-guia foram apresentadas em inglês. Claro, este evento se destina ao público estadunidense, mas na minha opinião, deve ser bilingue–em português e inglês. Existem certas coisas que resistem a tradução e é ilucinante ter o original no lugar para referência, e uma explicação em português (ou a língua do artista). Na áudia-guia que eu segui em inglês, tinha um erro com a pronúncia de “Sono” (disse “sonho” que significa “dream” em inglês) que realmente confundaria todo o significado da obra “O Sono” de Tarsila. Outra vantagem do bilinguismo é que acolhe a mais pessoas. Uma apresentação bilingue daria o “bem-vindo” aos lusofalantes a uma exposição de muita importância para o Brasil e o mundo lusófono.

Porém, é uma crítica menor. Adorei reparar sua obra desde os desenhos de lápiz e tinta em papel até os grandes quadros à óleo, pelos quais ganhou sua fama no Brasil e no exterior.

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Não vou fazer uma crítica “objetiva” ou escrever um texto pseudo-acadêmico sobre Tarsila no MOMA. Já publicaram a guia que todos podem comprar na livraria. Também podem assistir à entrevista com Caetano Veloso que fizeram no museu, sobre a arte de Tarsila e o tropicalismo em youtube.com, ou até podem fazer uma busca de Google para os artigos escritos por expertos famosos de arte. Prefiro oferecer algumas das minha reações e observações sobre meus quadros favoritos da exposição.

Primeiro, como artista, admirei muito que Tarsila assinasse seus quadros com apenas seu primeiro nome. Existe a ideia entre alguns artistas estadunidenses que um artista plástico “sério” tem que assinar sua obra com o sobrenome. Tarsila mostra que isso não é verdade.

Tarsila pintou temas brasileiros e iniciou, com seu esposo Oswald de Andrade, e outros artistas de todo tipo, o movimento antropófago e modernismo em São Paulo. Tarsila viajou para París para estudar arte, e também pelo Brasil para explorar temática autóctone. Ela desenhou e pintou animais, figuras humanas, “quase” humanas, a natureza, o campo e a cidade. Sobretudo em uma maneira não realista. Tinha influência de cubismo, surrealismo, futurismo e tudo que estava se fazendo naquela época–nas primeiras três décadas do século XX.

Nascida em 1886, em uma fazenda de São Paulo, capta a natureza de forma bruta na sua obra. “Cartão postal” de Tarsila tem os elementos de muitos postais típicos do Brasil–palmeiras, outras árvores, animais, casas, fruta, água e morros. É interesante sua mistura de plantas da caatinga com o rio/mar–como se este cartão postal representasse não só a familiar paisagem tropical, mas também a do interior, do sertão brasileiro.

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“O sono” fica na minha cabeça, por seu surrealismo misturado com o elemento brasileiro–essa palmeira primitiva e essencial.

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A última obra que se encontra antes de terminar e sair da sala é “Operários” de 1933. Aquí tem uma representação de tipos de brasileiros diferentes e as usinas urbanas.

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Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil continua no MOMA até 3 de junho 2018.

A Tropical Dream: DanzAbierta’s “Malson”

Five dancers, 3 women and two men, relate on the stage and with projected videos. They are in the videos sometimes, walking up and down a staircase, sitting on the Malecón (pier) in La Habana, overlooking the sea, and fighting each other in a car. Sometimes the video projection is a scene from a busy street in La Habana, where Cubans rush shoulder to shoulder. These frantic images and the peaceful ones, watching the waves and the sky, juxtapose with the action on the stage as if in a dream. “Malson” is the name of an hour long dance piece by the Cuban modern dance company DanzAbierta. Malson is Catalán for nightmare, but also can have a double meaning in Spanish.  “Mal” is bad or evil, while “son” is a typical Cuban rhythm/musical genre.

DanzAbierta means “Open dance” in Spanish. This is a fitting name for the company, which was established in 1988, by Marianela Boán. From its inception DanzAbierta, considered itself “avant-garde” and within that context, infused different forms of art into its choreography. Malson was choreographed by Susana Pous, a dancer originally from Barcelona, who currently resides in Cuba. In a video clip, Pous explains that her style of choreography is based on improvisation and includes lots of input from the dancers. She will present a theme to the company and they will begin to create together. Therefore, the resulting dance is much more organic and related to each dancer’s body, style and personality:

Malson by DanzAbierta, was performed on March 22, 2018 and Friday March 23, 2018, in Philadelphia, and is part of a larger Cuban Arts Festival at the Annenberg Center Live. The Artistic Adviser and Designer for Malson is Guido Gali, and music and videos are by X Alfonso. General Adviser is Noel Bonilla-Chongo. The phenomenal dancers are: Mailyn Castillo, Lissett Gallego, Diana Collumbié, Gabriel Méndez y Marcel Méndez.

On stage the nimble dancers interact with each other and with a big moveable block. The women wear dresses in black or gray and high heels–note that this is not the contemporary dance of barefeet and leotards, typical of modern dancers in the United States. Much of the music is new and electronic/instrumental, but there are a few traditional Cuban songs with lyrics in Spanish. The movements of the dancers range from salsa steps to more lyrical choreography, as well as sharp and frenetic actions. They cover the entire stage and various levels–from rolling on the floor, to lifts and flips. The choreography is polished yet natural and appears to come from within the dancers, illustrating Pous’ explanation of a collaborative process that brings out the uniqueness of each dancer.   Sometimes the dancers are in couples. They also dance in unison or like robots/dolls to represent the struggles within the relationships.

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What is most innovative to me is how the choreography relates to the video that is projected on the screen behind the dancers. The dancers seem to interact with themselves and the people and environment on the screen. This creates a tension between the video, dancers and audience. It is not just a pretty backdrop as used in some productions–it is an intrinsic para of the drama and the dance. It creates a visual experience that is interactive. One of my favorite instances was when the camera moved through a Havana street. It was as if the action was taking place in that very street and I was along for the ride. Most poignant and poetric were the scenes on the Malecón, overlooking the ocean.

Running time: 1 hour.

Malson by DanzAbierta goes next to Washington DC, on March 30, 2018. For more information check Susana Pous’ website or DanzAbierta’s Facebook page.  For upcoming events at the Annenberg Center Live in Philadelphia, visit their website.

Las Mujeres- Power Street Theater Company

Las Mujeres- Power Street Theater Company

I also reviewed this play, so I wanted to link it to my blog. This way readers can read both and perhaps get a discussion going.

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The Take Away 

  • Every Latinx person in Philadelphia should be proud to know that our city is an artistic playground for plays like Las Mujeres
  • Latinas deserve more opportunities to share their stories and the stories of the incredible womxn that came before them
  • Power Street created a great sense of community

In My Pockets

I was first introduced to Power Street through Erlina, the playwright of Las Mujeres, while the two of us were working on a project together. I was really impressed with She Wores Those Shoes and Erlina’s voice as a playwright. As a Latino, I was particularly looking forward to seeing Latinx theatre, since, let’s be real, there ain’t that much in Philly no matter what these trendy “diversity panels” say.

Since I’m unloading my pockets, I also need to admit that I’m a bad Latino for not knowing Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz…

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“Las Mujeres:” A New Play by Erlina Ortiz

“Healing, Educated, Opening, Love, and Empowerment.” These were several of the words that audience members shouted out in the Talkback after Saturday’s powerful performance of Las Mujeres (The Women), produced by Power Street Theatre Company  (PSTC) in Philadelphia. Written by Erlina Ortiz, a Dominican-American, Las Mujeres, despite the Spanish title, is performed in English at the West Kensington Ministry in the Northeast part of the city. The show was sold out and most of the enthusiastic and appreciative audience stayed for the conversation afterwards.

To quote Ortiz, “Las Mujeres seeks to educate and inspire audiences by providing comedic and dramatic insight on the challenges women and Latinx people face when assimilating into traditional male dominated spaces.”  She has written a solid script that is clear and direct, with frequent humor. The characters include two contemporary women, as well as four icons: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, an intelligent and well-educated nun from Mexico’s colonial period, Frida Kahlo, Mexico’s most famous female visual artist, Rita Hayworth, (whose real name was Margarita Carmem Cansino, and was of Spanish and gitana descent) and Minerva Mirabal, who along with her sisters, fought against the oppressive dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.

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Photo by Corem Coreano

The cast includes Gabriela Sanchez (also the Founder and Managing Director of PSTC), Krystal Lizz Rosa, Diana Rodriguez, Anjoli Santiago, Marisol Custodio, and Lorenza Bernasconi. Tamanya M.M. Garza, director, created a tight ensemble that deftly interpreted the script. As Frida, Diana Rodriguez had many of the comic lines that inspired robust laughter. I particularly enjoyed the characterization of gentil Sor Juana (Anjoli Santiago) and the use of her poetry in the interaction. Lorenza Bernasconi, who has a sweet  and well projected voice, also sang as Rita Hayworth. Rounding out the women from the past, Marisol Custodio was a sober and strong Minerva Mirabal.  Krystal Lizz Rosa, (Lena) performs for the first time outside of Temple University, and she is a promising talent. The most difficult role was that of Marlene, played with conviction by Gabriela Sanchez. She experiences a range of emotions throughout the play and must relate to four dead women from different countries and centuries!

Power Street Theatre is working hard to bring the audience to the performance. In addition to offering discount tickets for industry, students, veterans, community residents and senior citizens, economical ticket prices ($10-25), audience members can take advantage of child care services while at the show by reserving 24 hours ahead of time! High school students 18 and under are admitted free! So there are no excuses… don’t miss this new evocative play about a latina’s experience.

Running time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, no intermission.

Las mujeres plays through March 17, 2018, performing at the West Kensington Ministry–2140 N Hancock St, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, purchase them online.  Tickets are also available at the door an hour before showtime.

Songs You Left Behind: An Evening of Cultural Pride

On February 21, 2018 at the Kimmel Center, several Latino musicians and bands entertained a wall to wall enthusiastic audience. The concert was free and the fourth annual one of an initiative between the Kimmel Center and Javier Suarez, the Vice President of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  “Songs You Left Behind” was held in the SEI Innovation Studio, which is located in the basement of the Kimmel Center. The goal of the event is to “bring the music of the Americas to new audiences.” This was definitely successful on Wednesday evening, since the sold out audience was comprised of people familiar with the music (of their homelands or ancestors) and many people who were curious but who did not know the songs or genres.

Javier Suarez and a representative from the Kimmel Center, acted as emcees. The setup was similar to a cabaret with a song or a few from each vocalist or band and then stories, jokes or interaction with the audience about music and related topics. The musicians represented Colombia, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States. Since all but one were individuals or small bands, they were well served by the venue. The last group to perform, Banda Retoño, a Sinaloan (Northern Mexico) ensemble from New Jersey, really needed a much larger space. They have 15-16 musicians who play a variety of instruments, including clarinet, tuba, trombones, trumpets and percussion. Their numbers were superbly performed, but it was much too loud for the space.

The concert began with solo vocalist, William Eduardo, representing Costa Rica.  He sang “América, América” to a recorded accompaniment. He came back later in the evening with another ballad, “Jamás” (by Camilo Sesto from Spain) in which he encouraged the audience to sing along, and we did! I had great fun listening to him and enjoyed his “in your face” style, which is typical of Latin American singers of pop and ballads. A nod to the music of the mid-twentieth century, it was an interesting contrast to some of the dance music performed in the evening. Here is a youtube recording of  “América, América” by Spanish singer Nino Bravo:

In addition to Banda Retoño, Marla Jimenez also sang a Mexican song, “Mi querido viejo” made famous by Vicente Fernandez.  Ms. Jimenez was accompanied by Berto and Giovanni on guitars and she explained that the song was sung to her often by her father. She became emotional sharing this since her father had passed away and she was inspired to sing this song in his memory. From Colombia, Miguel Reynoso and De Tierra Caliente (USA/Colombia) played a few songs, including “Como un sueño” written by percussionist, “Papa Buda,” and a cover of “Carito” by Carlos Vives.  Although “De Tierra Caliente” sings in Spanish, they definitely have a United States sound, more like funk than salsa in “El sonido”, which they also performed in “Songs You Left Behind.”

A highlight of the evening was Magdaliz Roura and Crisol, who I have heard in different venues over the years. I was impressed with the virtuosity of the flutist and drummer, and Magdaliz’ evocative singing, while she expertly played the guitar. The group dedicated their three songs, two of them from Puerto Rico, to the Puerto Rican people.  “En mi viejo San Juan” by Noel Estrada (1942) was a perfect rendition that began with a flute solo. Their second song was “Bucha y pluma na ma” by Rafael Hernandez (1958), which is one of my favorites. This song was made famous by Puerto Rican vocalist, Myrta Silva, who sang with Cuba’s La Sonora Matancera before Celia Cruz. Magdaliz and Crisol played with gusto and feeling, clearly communicating the hilarity of this song.

They ended their set with an impromptu version of  the Colombian cumbia “La pollera colorá.”

A few audience members got up and danced throughout the evening, and the atmosphere was festive. With only several groups a wide variety of music was performed. This is definitely an event that the Kimmel Center should keep doing each year. Perhaps in a bigger venue for the large ensembles, and a piano?

A Homage to Chiquinha Gonzaga: A New CD by Brazilian pianist, Hercules Gomes

I’ve spent the last several years intrigued by the life and music of Brazilian composer, Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga. She was born in the mid-19th century and was a pianist and conductor as well. I’ve written about her (on this blog even), sung her songs and presented about her life and music. Today, I heard for the first time about Hercules Gomes, a pianist from São Paulo, who is raising funds to create a new recording of pieces in homage to Chiquinha Gonzaga. It is called “No Tempo da Chiquinha.” He’s arranged some of her pieces, adding some of his own style and modernizing her original scores with influences over the last century.  This is his arrangement of one of Chiquinha’s most famous works, Corta jaca:

This is one of my favorites. It is bouncy and danceable. Hercules says that this was his first arrangement of one of Chiquinha’s works, in 2014, for the site: www.chiquinhagonzaga.com.  One can contribute to the funding of this recording by going to the secure crowdfunding site: https://www.catarse.me/notempodachiquinha, and also receive different gifts for a contribution.

Another video that Hercules has put out is of Joaquim Callado’s Querida por todos. Callado was a flutist and instructor, and a mentor to Chiquinha. He is considered the “father of choro.” Although, this piece was not written by Chiquinha, it was written in homage to her, and fits right in with theme of the recording. Playing flute is Rodrigo Y Castro.

Rodrigo and Hercules, who often play together, discuss what Callado meant for flute playing in Brasil. For more information about Hercules, check his website:  http://herculesgomes.com/en/bio/  and his youtube channel for videos: Hercules Gomes

 

 

 

Tango Fire: Then and Now

The piano, violin, bandoneon and bass players are the backdrop for this dark, sultry tango café ambiance. I imagine myself in early twentieth century Buenos Aires, in a dive in a back alley at about midnight. Men finely dressed in suits and ladies in black and white period dress and hairstyles recreate the lively interaction on Wednesday January 31, 2018 at the Merriam Theater (Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts) in Philadelphia, PA, in the United States. A packed theater, full of dance, music or Latin American fans, were taken away to that back street in Buenos Aires for two hours in German Cornejo’s Tango Fire. 

The initial dance that opened Tango Fire is a throwback to the past. The couples dance the same steps in sync and the tango singer, Jesús Hidalgo, sings in Spanish with a handheld microphone. Various vignettes take place in the first half of the show, including a serenade with a guitar to a lady on the bench.

Although this half is meant to depict the early origins of Argentine tango–with music by the great masters, Piazzolla, Pugliese and Gardel, it is plainly evident that these dancers on stage are much more skilled and virtuostic than the European immigrants and Argentine locals who danced the tango socially over a century ago. The dancers display lots of clean and fancy footwork, characteristic of tango, but also some low lifts and jumps, pirouettes, leg extensions and high kicks and backbends, which attest to the ballet and acrobatic training of these formidable dancers. The company includes: German Cornejo (choreographer), Gisela Galeassi, Sebastian Alvarez & Gloria Saudelli, Marcos Esteban Roberts & Louise Junqueira Malucelli, Ezequiel Lopez & Camila Alegre, and Julio Jose Seffino & Carla Dominguez.

The second half of Tango Fire goes beyond tango’s humble origins and showcases some dances and movements that effectively and excitingly  push the boundaries of the genre, without losing touch with it. This is no small feat for the choreographer, German Cornejo, since tango has been so codified in the ballroom, dance school and even in the social tango context. The music performed by Quarteto Fuego (Clemente Carrascal–bandoneon, Gemma Scalia–violin, Matias Feigin–piano and Facundo Benavides–contrabass)  in the second half is more experimental and contemporary with some dissonance, but still accessible. In this act, the women dancers let their hair down (literally!) and the choreography is more varied. The interactions between the dancers seem more personal, more intense and smoldering. There are many lifts, spins, and level changes—from poses kneeling on the floor, to throwing a dancer in the air. There are also group dances that connect women and men, men and men and women and women, in ways that go beyond the traditional male/female partners in social or ballroom tango.

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Jose and Carla

The costumes throughout the show are spectacular. They are beautiful to look at, colorful, with sparkles and different styles and periods.  In addition, they are appropriately comfortable for strenuous dance movements. In the second half there is more individuality for each couple’s choreography and costumes and each one makes its mark. German and his partner Gisela, exhibited complete concentration and synchroneity in their numbers and a distinct sharp or percussive gesture at times, which created contrast with tango’s typically smooth body phrasing–this enriched the overall effect of their choreography and execution.

Here is a video of German and Gisela from a few years ago:

The Quarteto Nuevo played with gusto for the entire performance. The only break was intermission. The pianist, Matias Feigin, performed a solo that was robustly applauded by the audience in the second act. The ensemble transitioned seamlessly from 20th century tango to more contemporary pieces, with a jazz influence. The concert ended with an encore by each couple after a rousing standing ovation. The Tango Fire company continues this tour around the United States, and it is a must see for ballroom dance and tango aficionados.

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For more information and the schedule for upcoming concerts, please visit their website at: Tango Fire or the Facebook page. Next stop is Queens, NY this weekend!

German Cornejo: Emergence of a Modern Tango Choreographer

I had the pleasure of speaking with choreographer and tango dancer, German Cornejo in a phone interview, conducted in Spanish, on January 29, 2018. He and his company TANGO FIRE, are performing around the United States. 

German Cornejo knew that he wanted to dance early on. At home in Argentina, in the province of Buenos Aires, German was surrounded by music and dance. Folkloric dances such as the la chacarera, el gato, la zamba y el malabo, were part of his childhood.  At 8 years old he began to study these folkloric dances, and soon after would learn the tango. His grandparents and other adults in the family would tango at parties and other family gatherings, and when German’s mom saw him imitating his grandparents while listening to tango at home, she asked him if he would like to really learn it. Once he began to study tango at age 10, he loved it and decided dance would be his life.

In our conversation, German spoke of tango dancers and teachers who influenced him, such as Roberto Herrera and Nelida Rodriguez, but also of international pop stars like Prince, Michael Jackson, the Beatles, and Madonna. He listens to many different types of music and the unique lives and styles of these international artists serve as models of how to break out of one’s genre, take risks and blaze a new trail.

In addition to tango and folkloric Argentine dance, German has also trained in ballet and jazz, which enrich and add more depth and breadth to his dancing and choreography.

Tango Fire, headed by German, is both the name of the tango company from Buenos Aires, and their show currently on tour in the United States.  On January 29, 2018, they performed in Virginia Beach, and on January 31, they will present Tango Fire in Philadelphia at the Merriam Theater, part of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. German explained that this particular show features historical tango and more avant garde tango. Some of the company’s other shows include tango electronico, tango breakdance, Hollywood music and tango, as well as Piazzolla. In this way, German has stretched the boundaries of traditional tango to include other types of music and dance forms.

German Cornejo & Gisela Galeassi 5 copy

German Cornejo and Gisela Galeassi. Photo by Oliver Neubert

The Tango Fire company is comprised of German, his dance partner, Gisela Galeassi, Sebastian Alvarez, Victoria Saudelli, Marcos Esteban Roberts, Louise Junqueira Malucelli, Ezekiel Lopez, Camila Alegre, Julio Jose Seffino, and Carla Dominguez. They are accompanied by musicians of Quarteto Fuego, and the tango singer, Jesus Hidalgo. They have traveled and performed tango all over the world.

The company will rehearse for 8-9 hours per day depending on the show. German says that his choreographic process varies with the piece, and that usually it will take about a month to create a new work and polish it. Sometimes German will pick the music first, and has in his mind what the steps and movements will be.  In other instances he will involve the dancers earlier on in the process and have them improvise to music.

My last question was about milongas. Do they still go to these informal social dances and do tango? He jovially replied, “Yes, but when we have down time and aren’t intensely preparing for a show. When we are rehearsing tango 8-9 hours per day, we need a break from it!”

At the end of the interview, German stated that he hopes the people of Philadelphia will come out to the show Tango Fire, because it traces the history of tango, features different styles, showcases a cast of fantastic dancers, and is accompanied by live music by four incredible instrumentalists and a vocalist!

I can’t wait!! Check back at the end of the week for a review of Wednesday’s performance! 

Tango Fire performs on January 31, 2018 at 8:00 pm at the Merriam Theater–250 S. Broad Street in Philadelphia. To purchase tickets to this spectacular show, call the box office at 215-893-1991 or purchase them online.  For more information about Tango Fire’s extensive tour schedule (and to check when they are coming to YOUR city), visit their website.