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.
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.