Guest author Matthew Paluch sees German Cornejo's Tango After Dark in London
If anyone mentions Astor Piazzolla I'm there in a flash. This has to do partly with wonderful argot memories of dancing Hans Van Manen's Five Tangos as a very young professional, which consequently instilled a love for the composer and this style of music.
The much-lauded Argentine tango dancer German Cornejo opened his new show Tango After Dark through Sadler's Wells at the Peacock Theatre on 11 October for a two-week run. The show, featuring Piazzolla's revolutionary (traditional tango – nuevo tango) music, includes two singers, seven musicians and ten “world-class” Argentinian dancers who “will keep your passion for tango burning deep into the night” – I'm tired already!
Researching Cornejo, I was interested to read he studied other forms of dance to support his tango technique: classical and contemporary ballet, jazz, and acrobatic techniques. He also attended the Instituto Universitario Nacional del Arte (National University of the Arts) in Buenos Aires for its course in Choreographic Composition, which comes as no surprise having seen the show.
His most important teacher of tango was Nelida Rodriguez, who taught him more than just the steps, but also the ‘yeites'. A word from the language of tango: Lunfardo (an Italian-Spanish slang spoken on the streets of Buenos Aires) meaning “the secrets of the Tango steps”.
It's an interesting concept – taking something out of its usual context and trying to retain its authenticity. Case in point: Argentinian tango out of the barrios of Buenos Aires. Tango is a very intimate style of dance, even down to the basic hold a couple tends to use – the woman leaning into the man. Intimate and pensive. Can these distinctive traits travel well? Can something very internal be successfully translated into performed choreography?
Arriving at the Peacock there were flashes from the paparazzi no less! A red-carpet-style atmosphere was being pushed for the opening night, and the stalls bar had a celeb-ish buzz pre-show. Also, La Nuñez was in attendance.
The programme confirmed 26 numbers over two acts, so yes, a long night indeed! But it didn't feel like a chore. From the get-go it was a show of impeccable standard and jam-packed, so I'm not even going to try to describe all that you will witness when you see the show – and see it you must. However, I do feel confident in saying that what they offer isn't the people's tango: this is a super slick, uber-pumped-up version. The dancers are of the highest calibre and so is the choreography and necessary technique required to pull it off.
The numbers are original. You don't feel like you're seeing any repetition, which isn't easy! Duos sizzle with passion and pyrotechnic style lifts. Group numbers feel rehearsed to within an inch of their lives, and there's even an all-male number which sees four men dance the tango in two couples. This isn't an exploration of homosexuality in South America though, but rather an ‘I'm so alpha I can dance with my best mate' type of affair.
As wonderful as the show is, it did get me thinking about what it must be like to be Argentinian and not an archetypal man or woman in reality. Not easy. The show clearly only deals with brutish men and sensual women, and perhaps subconsciously asks a bigger cultural question: is there space for anything else in tango, and Argentina as a whole? And if not represented in modern explorations of (the national) dance then where…?
That said, it's still a sight to behold. Just don't expect anything off piste. At all.
Of all the female dancers, Gisela Galeassi, also the assistant choreographer and partner of Cornejo, is truly outstanding. She has undeniable star quality. Her style of dancing feels different, less obvious, and more understated compared to her on-stage peers, but this doesn't weaken her presence – it amplifies it, drawing you further in. I love the way she uses her eyes. They're very rarely at eye level, or obviously connected to her partner's – instead she has this long, projected diagonal downward look. It's incredibly powerful.
Other dancers to look out for are Micaela Spina who can penché with the best of them, and Ezequiel Lopez and Camila Alegre who have two tangos that are jaw-dropping. Alegre has a brilliant deadpan sultry presence – very, very watchable.
Three production suggestions. One: lose the pieces of material wafting around during one of Cornejo and Galeassi's duos. What they are doing is much more interesting than the cheap polyester diversion – it doesn't work or add to the experience. Two: rethink the wind machine velocity and atmospheric dry ice levels – at times it looked like there was a raging forest fire in the top stage left wing! And three: Spina needs more hair grips. The bob is undoubtedly more complex than the classic up-do, but she had two hairpiece situations. She coped well, but they were apparent in an otherwise spotless show.
Having the band on stage is always a good move. The musicians are super, and I mean SUPER. The drummer specifically had a major groove. Both singers are top notch, but Antonela Cirillo is on a different level. Total diva situation. Mega vocals and what a presence. She also had a pair of earrings at one point that deserve their own show.
The second half had longer moments for the music to take centre stage. Of course, it's there throughout the whole evening, but without the dance, one becomes even more aware of Piazzolla's range. Everything resides in the music: the drama, speed, sensuality, and abandon. This of course transfers into the dance with footwork at the speed of light, razor-sharp leg slices and kicks, sultry, slinky slides, and partner work and lifts I wouldn't even know what to call. Think Kenny Everett (all in the best possible taste!) with a side of ragdoll executed by the most seasoned professionals.
I'd like to acknowledge the high-end and vast costuming of the production. Many different vibes from Murder on the Orient Express to Zorro! The night ended with the slickest curtain calls in the biz, which I very much appreciated. And off we all went – with the bandoneon still in our ears – dreaming of trips to Buenos Aires.
Go see this show.
Side note: please, Peacock Theatre, try to do better: don't let people eat crisps in the auditorium and don't let people film the performance on their phones. It's unacceptable and off-putting and it's your job to deal with it.