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Forever Tango

An extravaganza of pasión

by Mary Ellen Hunt

December 29, 2004 -- Post Street Theater, San Francisco, CA

The title of Luis Bravo’s fervid evening of Argentine-inspired dances, “Forever Tango,” which returned to the Bay Area at the Post Street Theatre over the holidays, can be taken a couple of ways. The show, which first made a splash in San Francisco in 1997 and then transferred with enormous success to Broadway (it was nominated for a 1998 Tony Award), has an inherent pasión and intensity, as well as improvisational beauty that can make it seem like the kind of show one could come back to again and again … well, forever. But clocking in at two and a quarter hours, it can also feel like it’s going on … well, forever.

"Extravaganza" would be a good word for this show which has an emotional extravagance in addition to not just a few hot outfits and spicy little shoes. The seven couples are accompanied with heartfelt, often gut-level playing by an eleven musician ensemble and singer Alfredo Saez, who give the show a solid pulsing heartbeat with an aggressive and staccato core.

There are quite a few showbiz high kicks and impressive lunges to the floor, along with darkly dismissive glances across the burning stage. Some of the touches seem a bit silly, like the giant bandoneon that “gives birth” to a dancer at the beginning. Nevertheless, “Forever Tango” is highly entertaining and quite enough to make you reach for your program to fan yourself.

All the glitz and glam, though, put me in mind of one of the first milongas I attended, in a chilly little room someplace near the Potrero district. There were two utterly mesmerizing dancers out on the milonga floor, who looked nothing like the hot young cast of this company of “Forever Tango.” One was an older woman, perhaps sixty years old, with a demure skirt and blouse on, and a little scarf for panache. The one bit of glitz was the sexiest pair of heels I’ve ever seen on her feet. She had beautiful legs, and a slightly abstracted look in her eyes, as if she weren’t entirely paying attention to what was going on around her. But when she danced, she moved with an extraordinary dignity and surefootedness that no one else came close to matching. No splits, no high kicks, but ochos – figure-eight footwork -- to die for.

The other was an older gentleman, who looked rather like my accountant – male pattern baldness, very much heavier in the center, but immaculate in a dark suit. When he asked me to dance, I was dubious – he was a lot shorter than I – but if I thought it was going to be like dancing with my accountant, I was quickly disabused of the notion. It was the fist time I had ever been offered a lead in that way – strong, but not forceful, clear, but not pedantic. And for the first time, I saw the conversational aspect of tango – that when the leader in the couple offers an idea, the follower can respond with something usual, unusual, or decide not to take the lead.

All this is very different from the cabaret style tango in Bravo’s “Forever Tango” which adds a bit of Las Vegas into every tango basic. The dancers are credited with helping create the choreography, though one presumes the various numbers are in a less improvisational vein.

Oh, it’s hot, but it’s not intimate, and I find I miss the moments of quiet. Duets like “La Mariposa,” danced by Alejandra Gutty and Juan Paulo Horvath, or “Comme il Faut” performed by Claudio Gonzalez and Melina Brufman, work better than the big set pieces like “El Suburbio.” Even the lightly comic “La Tablada,” played for laughs with gusto by Marcelo Bernadaz and Veronica Gardella, was more fun, possibly because it didn’t take itself so seriously.

The dancers, make no mistake, are accomplished. We watch fascinated as those immaculate calves flash out in little kicks, accentuating the line that marks the muscles up the side of the leg. Clad in sleek gowns that have glittering accents the women are more than just ornaments to their louche partners—they can be powerful or vulnerable, but they place those delicate feet with the precision of a very picky cat.

“Vampitango,” a more recent addition to the show almost appeared to be a tango burlesque and it was hard to tell if the dancers were serious or not, but as through much of the show, the orchestra seems to ground the whole thing in reality. Their deeply felt rendition of tango legend Astor Piazolla’s “Adios Nonino” kept the audience in rapt silence.

Sometimes there is no need for theatrics to create drama.

Edited by Jeff.

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