The Tango Lesson

Thanks to the success of shows like Riverdance and Stomp, dance programs with vaguely cultural themes have formed a kick line across the country. The latest entry in this dance marathon, Forever Tango, features 14 world-class hoofers, an 11-piece orchestra, and a vocalist, all of them selling the story of the birth of the tango in 19th-century Argentina.

The single constraint placed on the show by its creator, Luis Bravo--that every dance should be tied to an event or custom from its country of origin--has turned its repertory into a colloquium on all things Argentinean. Within these confines, Bravo has created routines that use dance as a metaphor for his country's history.

"The tango is more than a dance," Bravo says; it's "a music, a drama, a culture, a way of life." It's also a collaboration, and proof that it takes more than two to tango. Bravo asks his dancers to improvise steps to the music he's commissioned, then videotapes their movements; later, he builds routines based on what he's seen.

"Most of the time, people only see the sex in this dance," according to the show's head dancer, Rolando Sandoval, who spent 12 years in tango training. "You can interpret a tango any way you want, but you can't miss the culture and history of the dance."

Sandoval may insist that the show is "more sensual than sexual," and that the tango reflects every aspect of its country's history, but the dance has a pretty steamy history of its own. Originally rejected by Argentinean society, the tango was sustained by high-class bordellos, where wealthy men hired "hostesses" to boogie for them. When the tango caught on in 1920s Paris, it was reimported to Argentina, where it was reclaimed as a national treasure.

Still, Sandoval says the tango is more than a hoary old lap dance. "The tango is the story of the poor immigrant worker who misses the girl or the family he left behind. When people immigrated to Buenos Aires from other countries, they brought dances from the old life they loved. These dances came together in the tango. It's about all of life."

--Robrt L. Pela

Forever Tango plays at 8 p.m. Friday, October 30; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, October 31; and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, November 1, at Gammage Auditorium, Mill and Apache in Tempe. Tickets range from $18 to $35. 965-3434 (Gammage), 503-5555 (Dillard's).

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela