United Kingdom Midnight Tango with Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace: actors, dancers and Miguel Angel (singer) with Tango Siempre. Aldwych Theatre, London, 31.1.12. (JPr)
As I have written elsewhere, BBC TV’s Strictly Come Dancing and all its various international versions has played a tremendous part in making dancing popular worldwide again. Its extravagant production values, wonderful costumes, glitz and glamour is worthy of a top Las Vegas showroom. From this we now get an arena tour for Strictly Come Dancing itself, as well as, touring shows for some of the professional dancers who have found fame on the show. Also all the spectacle and pizzazz that is now brought to ballroom dancing is expanding to many other forms of entertainment.
The promotional material for Midnight Tango often has ‘Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace in …’ as if their first names are almost enough, which to Strictly Come Dancing viewers they are of course. They have been on the show since 2006 and performed together for over 17 years as championship-winning dancers who specialise in Latin American and ballroom dancing and are especially famed for their Argentine tango. In Midnight Tango, Vincent and Flavia – who are the choreographers of the show – are joined by 10 of the world’s best tango dancers and accompanied by Tango Siempre, an internationally renowned tango band. The director is Karen Bruce and it produced by Adam Spiegel and, coming full circle, Arlene Phillips, who used to be a judge on the UK’s Strictly Come Dancing. It has already been shown live-streamed to cinemas and is available on DVD.
In the programme Flavia explains how Midnight Tango and all the similar shows have further helped strip away the ‘traditional fuddy-duddy image of ballroom dancing’. She goes on to explain: ‘Ballroom dancing is now very dynamic, even though a lot of the tradition remains. I think it’s beautiful and not at all old-fashioned. Music to a dancer is like a script to an actor: your emotions, what you feel and how you think are decided by the music.’ About the tango especially she says: ‘The tango is not a “show-offy” dance, a dance where you can display yourself. Instead, it’s very much about you and your partner. It’s very intimate and your emotions feel very different compared with other dances.’
The action of Midnight Tango takes place in a late-night bar in Buenos Aires, possibly in the 1920s or 30s, and gives us the essence of the tango, minus any hint of the gauchos or slums from which it arose. The sets, colourful costumes and lighting were often quite appropriate and generally created the right atmosphere. The musicians are on stage and there is some comic relief from the characters of the bar owners, Carlos (Teddy Kempner) and Rosa (Tricia Deighton). There is a loose story of them relighting the flame in their relationship but the simple central story consists of four ‘acts’ and uses the tango’s intrinsic elegance to illustrate sensuality, passion, pain, jealously, reconciliation and joy in the age-old story of man (Pablo) falling in love with a beguiling woman (Sofia), losing her to another (El Gato), then fighting for her and winning her back. The marital wars of the bar owners – as engaging as they were – seemed straight out of TV soap operas like EastEnders or Coronation Street. Karen Bruce’s direction appeared to only give the talents on stage the lightest of touches but I doubt anybody who gave this first night a deserved standing ovation left the theatre wishing they hadn’t been tango-ed.
Vincent and Flavia (Pablo and Sofia) are a potent partnership. However, they are dancers and the mood and emotion they create can only be distilled from the tango steps themselves and as such with its rather limited language of high-kicks, flicks, hooked legs, poses, balances and lifts it can all be a little repetitive at times. But they are never less that engaging and when dancing fluidly and sensuously together – especially in their duets after the interval – it is both elegant and eloquent and increasingly dramatic and heartfelt as the story progresses.
The rest of the, often long-limbed, supporting cast are also very fine dancers – particularly Giraldo Diomar, as El Gato, who is the rival to ‘Pablo’ for Rosa’s affection. They are all suitably showcased by Vincent and Flavia’s choreography that only occasionally drifts away into the Broadway dance idioms of Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins. The fight between Pablo and El Gato over Sofia and much of that particular scene, though quite spectacular, seemed to mimic the rivalry often seen in West Side Story.
Midnight Tango’s music includes some of the greatest tangos, notably Carlos Gardel classic, Por Una Cabeza, some familiar and not-so-familiar tunes from Astor Piazzolla, as well as new music from members of Tango Siempre and Tom Waits’ Temptation, that Tricia Deighton sings plaintively. It would be impossible to imagine the show being half as effective without the whiff of authenticity the wonderful Tango Siempre musicians give it and they played the tango rhythms with fervour, sensitivity and a wide expressive range. Ros Stephen’s violin, Jonathan Taylor’s piano, and Julian Rowland’s bandoneón were – along with the singing of Miguel Angel – a passionate complement to everything Vincent, Flavia and their dancers performed.
In conclusion, was I alone in wanting a little narration as Midnight Tango unfolded and although it was clear to me what was possibly going on, I wonder whether a few more English words might be useful for a tour that after its Aldwych Theatre residency visits major cities in the UK through to late July? Nevertheless, after selling out theatres in 2011 I am sure this entertaining evening that brings to the fore the exceptional talents of ballroom dancing’s most charismatic couple, Vincent and Flavia, cannot fail to lift the spirits of all who see it in 2012.
For details of the current performances and the 2012 tour dates – as well as other information – please visit the website http://www.midnighttango.co.uk.