to trot: Tango Flamenco.
The Real Thing
Mae G. Banner
Egg, Oct. 14
Tango Flamenco is to Spanish dancing as Riverdance is to Irish
stepdancing. That is to say, Antonio Najarro’s flamenco dances
were mechanized, over-choreographed and blanded out to a disappointing
degree—fast food for a mass audience, slim pickings for lovers
of traditional flamenco.
With the notable exceptions of Bordao en oro, a profound
solo by Cristina Casanova and Sendero, a raw-throated
canto hondo sung by Sonia Cortes with guitarist Daniel
Yague, the flamenco half of last Friday’s show at the Egg
was a departure from pure flamenco, not an innovative extension
of the form.
Najarro, trained in Spanish dancing and based in Madrid, is
one of many nuevo flamenco choreographers who
want to bring this traditional form into today’s world. His
path involves self-consciously “modern” dramatic gestures,
a departure from soulful solo dancing to theatricalized chorus
lines, the near absence of flashy male heel-work, and even
the squaring off of flamenco rhythms to make a commercial-sounding
beat draped with new-age melodies.
Some would call this cultural diffusion. I call it cultural
Some of Najarro’s theatrical ideas worked. Al son de la
manana, a dance for four women in pale green skin-tight
dresses and Japanese fans, was lit to create giant shadows
on the backdrop, so the undulating dancers looked like geishas.
The tango half of the show was a far more satisfying story.
Here, Najarro’s infusion of flamenco poses and gestures deepened
the seductive quality of the tango. The music—works by Astor
Piazzolla and guitarist Fernando Egozcue—was played stunningly
by the seven-person Ensamble Nuevo Tango. Here, the oboe and
cello were at home with piano, bass, percussion, and the razor-sharp
violin of Virginia Gonzalez.
Dancers and musicians created the smoky, orchid-scented atmosphere
of a porteno, a tango club. Gonzalez’s violin stood
in perfectly for the Argentine bandoneon.
Again, Najarro blends stylized tango moves with touches of
flamenco and heavy doses of modern choreography. The dozen
dancers in slinky satin dresses or severe black jackets advance
and retreat like feral cats. The women brush their high-heeled
feet on the floor, swivel their arms, and bend deeply forward,
then kneel with one leg extended to an astounding length,
while their torsos continue rippling.
The broken rhythms were thrilling, the group and couple dancing
exciting. A brief passage for three male couples took us back
to tango’s origins in the waterfront dives of Buenos Aires.
A well-designed group dance, Viejos Aires, was a rousing
finale, prompting the audience to demand a reprise.
I had to think about why I can’t accept flamenco fusion, but
I love tango fusion. I think it’s because tango, with roots
in urban bars and clubs, already is a couple dance that lends
itself to theatricality, invented choreography and public
display, while flamenco is at root a solo expression of deep
feeling. Others may watch and applaud a flamenco dancer, but
the moves have to come from within.
Then, too, flamenco needs only the dancer’s clapping hands
or castanets, with perhaps a singer or guitar, while the ballroom
tango we admire today is danced to seductive compositions
that bridge classical and popular music. Tango music moves
me even before the dancers take a step.
Rhythm in Shoes
Egg, Oct. 16
We had a good time at Rhythm in Shoes’ family show last Sunday
at the Egg. We got to see tap dancing, Appalachian clogging,
tickling old-time vaudeville skits, and a clever, polyrhythmic
group juggling scene that was like Stomp, but friendlier.
Also, we saw a “fabric dance” with floating sky-blue banners
that 18-year-old Emma Leahy-Good whirled and swirled into
the shapes of shells and butterfly wings. It was a reincarnation
of Loie Fuller’s vaudeville extravaganzas from the 1890s,
and remains magical today.
Emma is the daughter of co-directors Sharon Leahy and Rick
Good, whose Ohio-based company of five dancers and a five-piece
string band has toured 44 states with their wholesome show
of percussive dance, hoedown tunes, and comedy.
Do I have to convince you that wholesome is good and not a
whit boring? Rhythm in Shoes charmed my GameBoy-playing, Nickelodeon-watching
young guests (12- and 9-years-old) completely. They loved
the silly jokes from the Doctor Goodfellow’s Traveling Vaudeville
section: “My uncle fell down. They examined his head and found
They were enrapt at the cafe-table juggling and percussion
scene, with seven people exchanging clashing knives and forks,
spinning plates, and clinking glasses. As to the clogging
and tap, they tried out the steps in the Egg’s lobby afterwards,
not wanting to leave.
In an hour-long show, the group did snappy tap numbers to
1940s swing, complex clogging to the fiddle and banjo, silly
skits and physical comedy feats. One dancer sang a torchy
Sophie Tucker-style song. The fiddler sang “When Gabriel Blows
His Horn,” an African-American song of hope set to the modal
tune of a Scots-Irish ballad. The audience was getting an
education in roots and borrowings without anyone lecturing
The most beautiful moment to me was an example of perfect
clowning when the ethereal blue fabric dance was followed
by a wandering red tablecloth in the cafe skit. A waiter rolled
and stumbled in, trapped within the legs of a big round table,
and then tangled in a set of collapsing folding chairs. Righting
himself, he whipped out the big red tablecloth and shook it
out again and again, trying unsuccessfully to spread it evenly
on the table. Azure to red, sublime to ridiculous—a bit of
artistry straight from Bill Irwin.
Most of what television, movies, and pop culture feeds kids
is over-amplified, glitzy, headache-making, and generally
disrespectful of the audience. Thanks to Peter Lesser and
the Egg for booking groups like Rhythm and Shoes who are accomplished
performers with a fresh sense of fun. They speak plainly and
kids get it.