Tango Buenos Aires, a dance company from Argentina, came to Artemus W. Ham Hall on Jan. 22 and offered forth one of the most exquisite cultural exports from the region: tango. This particular type of dance has been portrayed in American culture in myriad ways, often as part of situations having to do with long-stemmed red roses, adulterous women and debonair men in tuxedos. However, the company proved that while there is fire and passion in many a well-executed tango, this is far from the only emotion that the dance can embody. Ultimately, like so many other facets of arts, dancing a tango well goes hand-in-hand, or perhaps stem-in-mouth, with an artist’s unflinching ability to tell a story.
Tango Buenos Aires told a story beautifully, making one of the greatest strengths of the troupe its audience appeal. The performers themselves were engaging because of their variety and approachable because of the subject matter being tackled. After all, many in the audience have probably walked into a club to see an object of affection gallivanting around with someone else. This was the premise set forth in the first act and revisited throughout the show and the pedestrian story created common ground for an audience that might otherwise have been intimidated.
Like other revolutionary movements that have rocked the global pop culture scene, the tango evolved from something that was, well, not on the average list of parentally sanctioned activities. Heralding from dance halls, river settlements, brothels and halfway houses, the dance went through a quick teenage phase during which it went by such names as “habanera” and “milonga.” The accompanying music, traditionally played on the piano, bass, cello, violin, flute and accordion, grew alongside the movement and is still considered as much of a staple as the dancing itself.
The musicians that accompanied Tango Buenos Aires held up their end of the deal famously, adding a lacquer of depth and emotion to the dancers. The audience was also treated to several orchestra-only numbers throughout the show, which were beautifully played and further demonstrated the variety of the genre. Live music, especially from such nuanced musicians, is simply indispensable.
The concert was a balanced blend of the familiar, the unknown, the surprising and the simply enjoyable. Tango Buenos Aires neatly sidestepped pretention, opting instead for unsullied communication with the audience. They were rewarded with a standing ovation, and the dancers and musicians performed an encore jubilantly. At the end of the final vignette, the performers waved to the audience from the stage. It was a credit to the company that many in the audience waved back.
Editor’s note: A different, revised version of this story ran in the Rebel Yell, the official student newspaper of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Check out the byline of my mild-mannared alter ego here.