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Music And Dance Review

The two it takes to tango

'Tango Fire' offers the familiar melodramas in its first half at

March 03, 2009|Reed Johnson

After-dark prowlers of Buenos Aires know that you can find two types of tango shows in that elegantly frayed metropolis. For casual tourists, there are smoothly efficient, slightly kitschy spectacles filled with plenty of slit skirts and slashing stiletto heels.

For the cognoscenti and the local portenos, there are more sophisticated, out-of-the-way venues where you can savor the music and the mildly disreputable ambience as well as the feral intensity of the dancing.

It's the difference between tango as a melancholic museum piece and tango as a dynamic living art form that continues to evolve, more than a century after its birth in the city's proletarian dives.

That division roughly characterizes the contrast between the first and second halves of "Tango Fire," the handsome, ferociously performed touring show that slinked into Walt Disney Concert Hall for one night on Sunday.

The first half is predictably set in a mock-up of a late 1940s or '50s cafe, with couples arrayed around tables trading smoldering glances and breaking into muscular strutting. There's a lot of distracting melodrama in the staging, with the women seething feigned jealousy and the men engaging in a parody of macho Peronist posturing: pushing each other in the chest, throwing fake punches and so on.

A little of this stylized play-acting goes a long way. More significantly, it detracts from the classy tango and milonga numbers, well served by Yanina Fajar's rakish, sensual choreography and the debonair crooning of singer Javier "Cardenal" Dominguez, belting out "Mi Buenos Aires Querido" and other Rio de la Plata favorites in his best Carlos Gardel form.

"Tango Fire" really ignites after the intermission, when it drops the back story and turns things over to the performers. Naturally, the main attraction is the 10 sleek, tightly wound dancers, including Fajar and her partner, Nelson Celis. Kick-stepping between each other's legs, executing perfect over-the-shoulder rolls or vise-gripping each other's torsos like wrestling anacondas, the attractive couples brought an unusual degree of athleticism as well as panache to their ballroom paces.

Tango generally works best in a tight space, where the barely constrained pulse of the dance always threatens to explode out violently. But this skillful ensemble managed to carve out suitably constricted floor room within the wide Disney stage.

The true highlight of "Tango Fire," though, as the Disney audience's applause attested, is the suave, emotionally wrenching playing of its four-man combo: Gustavo Casenave on piano; Hugo Satorre on bandoneon; Marcelo Rebuffi, violin; and Gerardo Scaglione, bass.

After maintaining a steady but unspectacular presence during the show's first half, the musicians whipped up a torrent of dark, minor-key passions following the interval. Combining Satorre's and Rebuffi's expressively drawn-out solos, Scaglione's groaning bass and Casenave's mad sprints up and down the ivories, the quartet's renditions of several Astor Piazzolla classics, including "Otono Porteno," "Fuga y Misterio" and "Adios Nonino," drove to the heart of tango's exquisite tension between euphoria and despair.

--

reed.johnson@latimes.com

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