Monday, October 11, 2010
Concert/dance review: Evolution Tango: An Evening with Astor Piazzola
The event brought together Argentine Tango dancers from across the world.
DALLAS On Saturday, October 9, DFW dance aficionados were treated to George and Jairelbhi Furlong's Evolution Tango at the Latino Cultural Center, which brought together Argentine Tango dancers from across the world to perform with traditional and contemporary music by the late composer Astor Piazzola. The show featured about a dozen dance numbers, interspersed with instrumental-only songs and some film of Piazzola and other iconic tango musicians.
The Argentine Tango itself is exceptional among all the popular ballroom-style couples dances, in that it is almost entirely improvisational: Unlike the more formalized American ballroom tango developed by the dance studios, there is no safety net of a basic step to fall back on. The dance relies heavily on the skill and passion of the leader and follower, who adapt and attune their movements to the flow of the ever-changing and often unpredictable music.
The music is an immensely enjoyable beast in and of itself: inconsistently veering from the slow and impressionistic to the violent and rhythmic, often evolving in a moment's notice into a completely different sound before sliding back into an intimate accordion or piano solo. Tango composer and performer Astor Piazzola, whose music was on full display Saturday night in both recorded and live formats, pushed the musical boundaries of the traditional tango music form, incorporating both classical and jazz influences that are present in contemporary tango to this day. Armed with little more than an accordion and an ear for original composition, Piazzola introduced extended harmonies and jazz-inspired dissonance into tango music that makes the music seem even more frenetic. There's no denying the violence and passion in Piazzola's beautifully temperamental music.
The dancers excellently captured the spirit of the composer's work, showcasing a wide range of dance ability and style. The set opened with all three couples gracefully snaking their way around the LCC's stage, complete with mood-enhancing lighting and a slow, intimate tango that transformed quickly into a high-energy multi-dancer whirlwind of turns, rapid leg crosses, cuts (cortes), walks, twists (ochos) and fan-favorite leg hooks (ganchos).
After the introductory number, the first couple -- internationally-acclaimed dancer and choreographer Hugo Patyn and his partner Celina Rotunda -- came out and immediately wowed the crowd. Patyn and Rotunda started slowly but spent most of their three routines exhibiting a flurry of flashy, theater arts-style dancing, where the male lifts and turns the female above, around and over his head with crowd-pleasing acrobatics. Patyn also impressed with his karate-style precision scissor kicking, particularly on the rapid-fire ganchos, which require a great deal of accuracy to avoid bruised shins and calves.
The second couple, Seattle's Carlos Barrionuevo and Mayte Valdes, also danced beautifully, replacing some of the fast-paced showmanship of Patyn with a measured, calculated ballet-like artistry. Valdes, in particular, effortlessly moved from one extreme to another, often going from gymnastic-level athleticism to docile femininity in a single pattern. Barrionuevo and Valdes brought a powerful change of pace to the dancing, complementing their forceful routines with ever-serious facial expressions that lent an air of solemn restraint to the performance.
By far the highlight of the dancing part of the program was the headlining couple, Dallas' own George and Jairelbhi Furlong. While not anywhere near as flashy or athletic as the previous two couples, the Furlongs best exhibited the most basic fundamental of couples dancing, the connection of two human beings on the dance floor. Throughout their five routines, the Furlongs showcased the grace and elegance you can only get with a couple that's been dancing together for a very long time. Of course, it helps that they're married (not that that necessarily guarantees anything when it comes to dancing together); according to their bio, the two are relative late-comers to the Argentine Tango, with George not even starting to dance until his late 20s. Often with late bloomers to dance, the priorities are different: In this case, the steps, patterns and elements of the tango were present and flawlessly executed, but took a back seat to the crucial foundation of give-and-take between the two dance partners.
The live musicians were excellent as well. Roberto Furlong (guitar) and Eduardo Rojas (piano) combined on the instrumental version of "Adios Nonino," while Rojas went it alone in an impressive, heartfelt "El Choclo" towards the end of the program. They were joined throughout the program by violinist Jorge Caldelari and singer Lizzie Furlong, bringing a family element to the overall performance that I, as a new dad of a one year-old future singer/dancer/drummer, found especially endearing.
If there was one drawback to the show, it was the lack of dancing to live music: Only Patyn and Rotunda attempted this, dancing to live music on "Oblivion," although the Furlongs did do a dance to a video recording of Piazzola on "Escualo." The audio portion of the film was also hard to make out at times, but I was able to understand enough of it to learn some new history and theory of the tango. Overall, a magnificent dance exhibition in an excellent setting.