Theater

Leave It to the Feet

by

Miguel Angel Zotto is the director, choreographer, and undisputed star of the Argentinean company Tango x 2. Like a stallion in the wild, he has his pick of the lithe, sexy females in the herd, and the feisty, more youthful males know their place. Over the course of the evening, he performs seven duets. He’s not young, tall, or movie-star handsome, but he dances like a dream—deep inside the maneuvers of the tango, one with his partner and the music’s nuances. Just walking gorgeous Daiana Guspero across the floor, he gives the gliding steps a subtle lilt, and he’s a master of rapid footwork, the flicking of a leg, a sudden shift of direction. He can be passionately serious or, as in a milonga with Mariana Dragone, seriously playful.

The two-act show may be a bit long, but it’s rich in tango lore. Sometimes the music comes from vintage recordings, sometimes from the ensemble (piano, violin, double bass, and two bandoneóns) seated at the back of the stage, plus singer Claudio Garcés. Watching the bandoneón players bounce their instruments on one knee as they squeeze out the melody, you can literally see the raspy foundation of the tango’s thrust. The costumes are modern—backless, sleeveless dresses slit to the hip for the women—and, for the most part, handsome. (I except the crotch-length jackets that the women wear over black thongs in the ensemble number “Tiempo Cumplido” . . . what could someone have been thinking?)

Much of Zotto’s group choreography is excellent. He knows how to stage informal gatherings, to individualize unison, and to make counterpoint relaxed. This is true of scenes with narratives (e.g., two unsuspecting immigrant girls are sold into a brothel—and, miraculously, quickly master the tango’s erotic moves). The “lessons” that eight men give one another in steps and partnering techniques are marked by casual, good-humored behavior. Ensemble patterns develop in sophisticated, eye-catching ways. The duets (14 in all) display the varying styles of the company’s expert dancers. When Leandro Oliver dances with Laila Rezk, the small, strong woman lends herself to being swung off the floor. Tall Gabriel Ponce and Analía Morales make you aware of the length of their slicing legs, and he slides her into a split by way of a climax.

It’s not always easy to differentiate between traditional, developed traditional, and modern. Women baring their buttocks and people dancing while brandishing bandoneóns? Definitely “modern.” Dances in which partners emphasize tapping their toes on the floor? Definitely the early taconeado. But in a scene in which legendary underworld men of the early 20th century fight over a woman, it seems odd that one of them rips off her skirt and she continues dancing (although, come to think of it, maybe that’s why she knifes him).

In Zotto’s choreography, partners rarely jab a foot between each other’s legs, but speedy twists of the feet and whole body make the steps look daring and dazzling without that obvious erotic move. Tango demands a tight embrace that also allows room for the intricate steps. Turning slightly within that embrace creates space as well as intricacy, but I can see why a man and a woman, face to face, may have to slant slightly toward each other. What’s puzzling about the Tango x 2 dancers is that while the men hold themselves erect, with an easy elegance that matches their brilliantined hair and well-cut suits, the women often dance sway-backed, holding their pelvises away from their partners, which breaks the long line from their proud heads to their high-heeled shoes.

Tango classes, some of them free, have sprung up in our city. Would that they could make us this sleek, this knowing, this assured!

Most Popular