Tango for the 21st Century - By Ms.Merized

A guest blog review for Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's ​m¡longa at Brighton Festival on the 19 May.

The Dance of Life

Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui promised to add a contemporary twist to the original influences of Argentine Tango, and delivered right from the start. An overhead screen introduced a melange of Traditional moves, then the spotlight switched to a couple centre-stage. Slow, measured, tempered passion; going through all the usual moves: the pulpo, octopus-like leg entanglements; gancho, leg hooked around the other's leg or body, only they do it all back-to-back: like a couple who've had a heated argument; able to stay in the same room, stay in the relationship, but not yet able to face each other. They argue, yes, that's a complicated dance at the best of times, but through various shifts and turns are able to come face-to-face; see eye-to-eye. Extraordinary: the perfect start. Tango is about power, relationship, passion, desire, raw emotion: the pulse and rhythm of life. Intensity. Complexity. Entanglements. Social binds.

On-Screen Relationships

So much of life now is screen-based. Witness the man absorbed in orchestrating his life, arms upraised like a conductor, re-arranging scenes from his life on the big screen: enlarging, shifting, swiping, deleting. Memories, history, the storyboard of life. We see it all, over his shoulder. Voyeurs. He has his back to us. Smartphones are jealous gods, they demand undivided attention. The Screen is just that: a cover for real life. It plays an important part in the performance: projections & shadows. Real dancers perform (compete?) with their projections: larger than life - they can almost steal the show. They distract, as projections do, They can even be more active than the figures they stem from, leaving them at a standstill. There's a divide between what's real & what's superficial image, and how the two can interface, or not. I was reminded of Fred Astaire's 'Shadow Dance' with a touch of Buzby Berkeley. It highlighted that uncomfortable breach in relationship where you're not entirely sure what's going on.

"It Takes Two to Tango..."

Well, the contemporary twist to that is acknowledging, it more than likely takes three: including an ex- in the pulpo entanglements; plus, the arrastre, body dragged along behind, or still wrapped around a partner. Or, in the more time-honoured tradition of affairs, up close and passionate, behind the back of the one of the 3 at any given time. Ouch. A clever, creative take on relationships. If you can get together at all, that is, which is also taken into account. The awkwardness of sitting on the side-lines while everyone else is paired off; being in the same city / same gathering, yet not quite able to connect. Or, being so self-absorbed, important signals and flirtatious cues are missed, whilst practicing social strategies: comic touches added by the Lucille Ball-like character trying to gain the attention of Mr. Bean. Tango is relationship; and as such, includes how we move in our environments; caught up in the busy-ness and rush of city-life, that invariably ends in isolation: the antithesis of Tango. 

A passionate tour de force, beautifully enhanced by the small band of on-stage musicians, and thedistinctive accordion that is the natural partner to the Tango - it breathes! And moves together / apart, but never divided. I recognized some of the music from my Nuevo Tango CD. A wonderful evocation of all that is Tango; its roots & fruits. A triumph all round. Bravo!

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