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Hot to trot: Tango Flamenco.

Almost The Real Thing
By Mae G. Banner

Tango Flamenco

The 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 confusion.

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.

Kid Friendly

Rhythm in Shoes

The 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 nothing.”

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 them.

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.

—Mae G. Banner

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