Playing homage to the milongueros

Página 12 – july 25 2013


Agustina Videla and Nora Lezano talk about Social Tango
Dance, music and video are combined in the show created by Videla and Lezano, now performing at the Teatro de la Ribera. “The milonga is a place for sharing; that is where tango is experienced”, say the authors. A photographic exhibition by Lezano completes the work.

Fog, cold, the Riachuelo and the Old Transporter Bridge. In the afternoon, the cobbled streets of La Boca seem dark and silent, perhaps due to the inclement weather that threatens both foreign tourists and bohemian strollers. Among the cobblestones, the streetlights and the brightly colored sheet-metal tenements, something smacks of bitter tango and disappointment. Almost as an attempt to demystify this gray day, inside the doors of the Teatro de la Ribera, in la Boca, the dancers of Social Tango are rehearsing intensely for the next performance.

The tango dancer, choreographer and teacher Agustina Videla, and the photographer and video artist Nora Lezano (a key collaborator to the Radar supplement of this newspaper) are in charge of directing the show, which dynamically and boldly combines dance and music with video projections to tell the story of man whose life is transformed when he comes into contact with tango. It is this process of transformation that the spectator sees represented through the corporal movements and expressive choreographies in which the dance emerges as the festive, almost playful, flipside to the monotony imposed by daily life, which can be seen most effusively in the milonga.

“Social Tango arose from the need to see something we felt we could identify with up on stage. We were looking for something that portrayed the contemporary phenomenon that tango brings about in people, and the reality of going to the milonga, which is something that is universal, because it happens here, in Moscow or in Istanbul. It seems to us that there is something very powerful being generated by the dance and we wanted to show that in this work”, says Videla.

The milonga, as a space of socialization and encounter, takes on a leading role in this theatrical offering. In the short films, which are projected to guide the thread of the story, the dancehall “regulars” recount how this ritual has changed their lives. “The show tells of a man who is transformed when he discovers tango, and the idea of the shorts was to tell that story using real protagonists, who are these ‘unknowns’ of tango, these milongueros to whom we wish to pay tribute”, explains Lezano, the director of the videos, who adds, “The other objective was to show what happens in the milonga. As a complete outsider, I was struck by one guy with dreads who went to the same place as a conservative gentleman who wouldn’t dance without his suit jacket on. We had to show that. A lot of foreigners go to the milonga: Japanese, Russians, Italians, people of different social classes and ages. We wanted to show that diversity”.

The differences are diluted by the experience on the dance floor, where men and women, young and old, surrender to the pleasure of the tango rhythm. The milonga is a place for sharing; that is where tango is experienced, stresses Videla. “It is a timeless space, where people from different cultures and generations meet. As the photos show (see box), a boy of 18 and a man of 80 are at the same place on a Saturday night. It doesn’t matter if you are ugly, good-looking or slim, it doesn’t matter where you are from, or how you are dressed, all that matters is how you dance.”

Social Tango offers up the challenge of sweeping aside the clichés that turn tango into a tragic experience of suffering. While the bandoneon plays, on the stage it is all about enjoyment. Heartache is perhaps the theme that provided the greatest inspiration for the tango poets, a recurrent topic, which is, as you might guess, not absent from the show. Without his dance partner, and torn apart by loneliness, the protagonist partakes in a frenetic and solitary dance. “Niebla del Riachuelo” rings out, in the exquisite version created by Diego, El Cigala, with his unmistakable gypsy voice, and Bebo Valdés, with his singsong piano playing. It is the most emotive and nostalgic point of the story, but it is just a moment of suspension, which perhaps appears so as to remind the audience that not all is joy. But the show must go on, and that was Agustina’s intention: “Even though the work portrays a falling in and out of love, the central theme is the enjoyment and the discovery experienced by the protagonist through the dance. It is true that many people get into tango because they are alone, and they fall in love or fall out of love, but the milonga lives on”.

Disappointment thus turns into hope, and the scorned man comes to believe once again in dancing and in love. On the stage, it is joy that triumphs; there, through the music, the costumes and the multi-colored lights, a moment of liberation occurs. “Tango allows for a very powerful place of creative expression, which enables you to make art. The possibility it offers to improvise is highly complex; it is a very rich dance, which also connects you to another. It is a powerful triangle that emerges from the relationship between the music, that ‘other’, and creativity, people are transformed by this. It moves something within us to be embracing a stranger, to share emotionally powerful things with someone whose name you don’t even know.”

No doubt tango can be many things but the overriding sense here is of the happy spirit that is recreated in the exchanges at the milonga gatherings along with the feeling of liberation from everyday troubles. Such is the belief and experience of Lezano, who is not “part of that scene” and comes instead from the world of rock music. “What I found wonderful was the enjoyment and the positive vibe that is generated by the dance. For me it is like taking photos. I think people leave the show feeling pleased.” Perhaps Social tango appeared not for the delight of the tango public but rather to captivate, engage and win over those skeptical of the genre, so that they feel its mystique and believe in it.

Report: Candela Gomes Díez.

The photo exhibition
Milongueros is the photographic exhibition that accompanies the musical show to accentuate its fundamental essence, and to this end is housed alongside the emblematic paintings of port scenes by Quinquela Martín, which bedeck the Teatro de la Ribera. Nora Lezano was given the task of immortalizing those “unknown figures” of tango, who stepped off the dance floor for a moment to pose before her camera. “When Agustina invited me to work on the project I wanted to approach it through photography to begin with. I have been setting up mini studios in public places for years and I said, “Why not in a milonga?” “We visited a couple of milongas and decided on ‘Cachirulo’, which has a huge patio that was perfect for setting up a nice photography studio. The only requirement was that the people appeared to be alone and to just ‘let them be’. We chose seven characters from the exhibition to take the leads in the shorts that form part of the show. The aesthetic was not left to chance. Nora chose black and white to lend greater expressiveness to the milongueros portrayed, and to create a sense of timelessness, in order to show both the diversity and the pleasure that the production seeks to transmit. (The exhibition is open every day, at the Teatro de la Ribera, Pedro de Mendoza 1821. Social Tango is playing Thursdays through Saturdays, 8.00 p.m. and Sundays at 7.00 p.m.)


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