Absorbing Depiction of the Dance of Life

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various Composers, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui m¡longa: Sadler’s Wells Production, Sadler’s Wells, London, 07.11.2013.   (JO’D)

Tango Dancers: Sebastian Acosta, Melina Brufman, Cristian Cisneros, Martin Epherra, Esther Garabali, Maricel Giacomini, Claudio Gonzalez, Nicolas Schell, Nair Schinca, Valentina Villaroel
Contemporary Dancers: Silvina Cortés, Damien Fournier
Musical Director and Pianist: Fernando Marzan
Musicians: Ahram Kim (violin), Alejandro Sancho (guitar), Federico Santisteban (bandoneon), Roberto Santocono (bass)
Directed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in collaboration with the dancers
Tango Consultant and Rehearsal Director: Nelida Rodriguez de Aure
Set & Video Designer: Eugenio Szwarcer
Composers: Fernando Marzan, Szymon Bróska
Additional composer: Olga Wojciechowska
Costume Designer: Tim Van Steenbergen
Lighting Designer: Adam Carrée
Sound Desinger: Gaston Briski

There were no standing ovations (in rows A to H of the stalls, at least) at the end of m¡longa. Its intention had not been to work the audience up to that, fever pitch. The final moment is the closure of a circle, rather than a climax. After it, people just sat there (I just sat there), clapping and clapping, still under the spell that the seamlessly revolving tango dancers, and the music, had put on them. It was only after the dancers themselves had clapped, and waved, that most people felt ready to stand up and leave.

The circle opens with four musicians at the side of the stage, and a man with slicked back hair and a woman with very high heels standing back to back at the centre. When they begin to move, the man and woman remain back to back. Close and separate at the same time, their awareness of each other comes through touch, or through a sixth sense, rather than through sight. Their dance finishes like an unanswered question and other couples make their entrance. If there is a sense, throughout the piece, that the tango is ‘the dance of life’ (of its cycle), the black, white and red of Tim Van Steenbergen’s costumes for this opening section is a clear expression of it. Softer shades of blue or pink are introduced later on to match the different moods (wistful, sexual, comic, a combination of all three) of the dancing.

Interwoven with the tango dancers are two contemporary dancers (Damien Fournier and Silvina Cortés) who move around each other in ways that are more tortuous (and sometimes more tortured). Like the faun and the nymph in choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s earlier work, ‘Faun’, they discover each other through movement. Also integrated into the dancing is set designer Eugenio Szwarcer’s video footage of Buenos Aires. Filmed from a moving vehicle and projected on to a screen that rises and falls at the front, rather than the back, of the stage, this places the tango in its social context and provides a panorama with which the dancers wittily interact by appearing to walk into it or to pluck fruit from it. Inventive and clever as the digital resources and staging of the piece are, it is always the dancing (both the tango and the contemporary) that surprises most, and is most entertaining to watch: the compass-like legs of one woman; the expressive arms of another, the three men who refer to the history of the tango as a dance for men (and whose trio earned perhaps the loudest applause). The satisfaction and closure of the ending derive from the simple fact that the two dancers who were back to back at the start are now face to face, and smiling.

As is so often the case, it is an overheard comment afterwards that best sums up a performance. Waiting to cross the road, a man recognized an acquaintance. ‘Have you been to the show at Sadler’s?’ he asked. Then, with more force than grammar (as someone in a Henry James novel puts it), he said, ‘Brilliant, weren’t it?’


John O’Dwyer


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