Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tango in Buenos Aires

Written by Karen.
It's a steamy day.  The sun is brilliant against the blue sky absent of any cloud cover.  I am dripping with sweat.  It is hot.  Just plain hot.  We are walking around a couple of new neighborhoods today, La Boca and Barracas.  These areas are somewhat removed from the hubbub that is downtown Buenos Aires.  Our primary goal this day, like most days - besides exploring new neighborhoods - is to find a great local restaurant, preferably one with a good local wine list.   Gotta eat, right?

We travel lightly - just my camera, a notebook and our Spanish/English dictionary - and we start off in the direction that we think we should go, as we always do before we get lost.  Our Spanish is getting a bit better and we practice by asking for directions and for recommendations of where we should eat.  People we speak with tend to take our questions seriously and show us respect by carefully answering our questions.  Everybody knows where the good places are - but they need to find a way to let us in on the secret that we can understand!  We take careful notes so we can remember the recommendations at a later time.  

The streets are quiet but hot, and we cross the street often to try and walk in the shade as much as possible.  We've seen wonderful color and architecture reminiscent of an older time, and are starting to meander back and seriously consider our late lunch options. 

We hear amplified tango music and look for its origin.  We stand outside in the sun and look inside an old warehouse-turned-bar and see a group of people dancing.  Is this a tango class?  We step into the cooler recesses of the warehouse and stop, not wanting to intrude.  One of the dancers looks up and suddenly waves us in.  We look at each other and shrug our shoulders.  Lunch can wait - let's see what's going on.

We take a seat up close and watch the six dancers work out their choreography from our intimate vantage point.  After a few minutes, one of the dancers, Nicole, comes over and lets us know that they are rehearsing for a small show on Saturday night in Palermo, a trendy neighborhood in Buenos Aires.  She makes us feel welcome and invites us to observe the rest of the group, and then goes right back to the rehearsal.    Later on, she talks to us about the show the following evening, and if we are at all interested she offers to make our reservations to attend.  

We stayed for the entire rehearsal. I don't know much about the history of tango, other than the dance originated in Buenos Aires.  But, after seeing the entire dance rehearsal - the stops and the starts, the music played over and over again, the working out of foot and body placement, and entrances and exits - it's hot.  I don't mean just the outside temperatures, but the dance itself.  The slow, sultry dance moves alternated with the fast - incredibly fast - dance moves and foot coordination with the sticky, steamy temperatures makes for passionate dances. It seems that the heat of the dance is magnified and complimented by the heat of the temperature outside.  

We decide then and there to attend the dinner/dance show the following evening.  After seeing the dance troupe rehearse for two hours, it will be interesting to see how the performance finally works out on the stage.  We also feel a personal connection with Nicole Nau and her husband, Luis Pereyra, and want to support them as they put together this tango dance show, along with other Argentinian folk music and traditional dance choreography.

Later on that evening, we looked up the name of the dance troupe on the internet, along with Nicole Nau and Luis Pereyra, and were surprised to find out that they were internationally recognized as dancers and choreographers - particularly in the tango genre.  (Here's their website.)  We are now even more excited about attending the event the following night.  

The show, El Sonida De Mi Tierra, is held at the Sala Siranush Theatre in Palermo on Saturday nights during the months of February and March 2013.  Cost: 260 ARS or roughly $52 USD for two persons. 

The following evening is the night of the performance.  It is still hot and steamy outside, despite the sun having gone down hours before.  We arrive at the theater before 9:00 pm so we can have dinner before the dance performance.  We wait in line at the box office to purchase our tickets that have been set aside for us.  As promised, Nicole reserved  two center table tickets in the second row for us, which are great seats.  We entered the theater along with approximately two hundred others and took our seats.  We enjoyed an Armenian appetizer sampler and a bottle of Argentinian red wine as we waited for the show to begin. 

Right at 10:00 pm, the lights dimmed and the drums started beating.  The dance troupe entered, featuring Nicole and Luis, and totally grabbed us for the entire hourlong show.  The dancing was intense, fast, slow, intricate, and continually passionate.  I was spellbound by their artistry and by their demonstrated passion for the music and the dance.  

During the rehearsal the day before, the dance troupe primarily walked through the dances, marking their steps and figuring out the performing logistics. I enjoyed the collaborative part of watching the dancers rehearse.  But, in the end, Luis and Nicole had a vision that they were trying to express with dance and music, and it was also interesting to me how they professionally communicated that vision to the rest of the dancers.  Movements were efficient and graceful, thoughts were expressed by the choreographers to the attentive dancers, and time and distance were carefully measured as the troupe danced on a rehearsal rectangle defined simply by four chairs.

During the live performance, the men and the women of the dance troupe suddenly became larger-than-life and danced as if their very life depended on it.  Sweat flew in droplets across the stage as the men dipped, twirled, stomped and jumped.  The women, in their various beautiful velvet and gauze dresses, were eloquent and beautiful in their gestures and supremely strong in their dance steps.  The fierceness of the dance, the stomps, the turns, the twists, the dips, the caresses, and the genuine partnerships were both passionate and steamy. Their demonstrated joy derived of the art of dance, song, poetry and history lit up the stage.  You were seated in the midst of genuine intensity fueled by years and years of enduring tradition.

When the performance was over and the applause faded, Luis and Nicole invited everyone to tango - "just us family and friends" - in an open space in the center of the theater.  It was cool to see everyone in the audience jump up and start to dance.  It didn't matter if they were good or not-so-good, older or younger, the audience loved the tango just as much as the performers did as amateurs and professionals shared the music.

Later, Nicole and Luis came over and thanked us for coming.  We tried to convey to them just how much we appreciated their generosity in letting us see the rehearsal and for reserving such great seats for us to watch the performance.  We talked about the dance process, the collaboration, the hard work, and the final result of the performance.  We talked about how you just have to go with the flow sometimes when the unexpected happens.  

I may still not know too much about the Argentinian tango, but I appreciate and understand it better now due to a chance encounter that we had in an off-the-beaten-track neighborhood where we stumbled onto a dance rehearsal.  It turns out that the tango is a passionate dance - not rigid and cold as I had expected - and full of life and love.  

My big take away from this experience was meeting Nicole and Luis. To be able to dance like Luis and Nicole - completely fearless and with so much trust in each other - is a beautiful thing to watch.  My other take away is that I may decide to take tango lessons someday, but I want to remember that dance is not only a series of steps that organize the movements.  It is the joy, passion and connection that Nicole and Luis have with each other that I want to emulate when I dance - even when I stumble.  

Luis and Nicole during rehearsal
A shot of the rehearsal in a converted warehouse.
The dance troupe is practicing their steps during the rehearsal the day before the show.
The ceiling of the Sala Siranush Theatre
The stage - waiting for the performance to begin.
Encore number
Nicole and Luis taking a bow.  The rest of the dance troupe is behind them.
After the performance, Nicole and Luis are dancing along with members of the dance troupe and the audience.


David in SF said...

This is what happens when one travels lightly and without an itinerary- one can respond to things that Happen in the moment, much like this experience of Tango. Nicole reminded me of Argentinians that I met who were also extremely warm and friendly- I mean, really, you just wouldn't find such a warm invitation from someone here in the Bay Area at least! From enjoying the food and the dance, learning the culture, and Spanish, it sounds like the both of you are really savoring every moment

Diane said...

Dancing and eating and sweating, oh, my. You are not in Oz but you are in wonderland. By the way, is there any air conditioning?

Observers of Life said...

Hi David!

I can only think of a very few circumstances where we have interacted with less than absolutely hospitable and friendly people here in South America. This particular experience of meeting Luis and Nicole is one of my highlights of the entire trip! It was really a great - and unexpected - experience!


Observers of Life said...

Hi Diane!

Great to hear from you! Argentina is definitely not Kansas - but it is a great place to visit! The food, the wine, the friendly people....Wow! :) Yes, fortunately, there is air conditioning in most places, including our tiny rented studio. We are definitely grateful for this amenity as it has been in the 90's for the past week! :)