Story and photos by Carole Edrich
There are plenty of ways to see a tango show in Buenos Aires, some a pure tourist grab, others way too stuffy. Experience the ultimate production at the hip Faena Hotel and Universe.
Ushered in through a discreet entrance guarded by two immaculate bouncers it takes a while to make sense of what's around. Benches lined with deep black velvet punctuated with blood red resin–covered bowls run along the centre of this cavernous tunnel of a hall. Half–open doors reveal tantalising glimpses of exclusive shops, softly lit bars and lavishly appointed restaurants. Snatches of conversation, moody jazz and the smell of clean, fresh lemons make me wish there was more time to spend in this intriguing dream of a hotel.
The gorgeous head waiter leads me to a small round table. Laid for one, it's by a dark, mahogany piano. Elegant and straight–backed, my chair is upholstered with rich red velvet. On the table subtly contoured silver cutlery and sparkling crystal wine glasses reflect the flame of a white candle burning in its crimson shade. A second good–looking waiter (they're all stunning here) offers a choice of Argentina's best wine or champagne. Another pours my water.
The Faena Tango Salon is intimate, well designed and the intrusion of photography is forbidden. 120 people can dine in comfort, viewing stage and show with ease but the layout is such that it feels more like 60. Piazolla (the musician credited with igniting the world's passion for flamenco) is playing softly. This exclusive room could have been plucked from a gothic novel, detective story or fin de siecle romance.
Notably different to other audiences at Buenos Aires tango shows, the well–appointed guests are neither overdressed nor flash. As the only solo diner in the room I'm as much interest to them as they are to me. I select mouth–watering dishes from the elegant menu and they examine me unobtrusively. I do the same to them.
As the room darkens, five earnest young men dressed completely in white walk to their posts on the stage to my left. More edgy and intoxicating than traditional tunes, Tango Nuevo fills the air. So large, loud and white are the musicians that it takes a while to become aware of two dancers performing on the stage I'm facing. The atmosphere's both opulent and exotic, his movements masculine and precise and her footwork and embellishments an exuberant pleasure. Their bodies move with sensual synchronicity and their dance is acrobatic with smooth changes in pace and floorwork. They use the entire stage. As the first number ends and he spins her into darkness I wonder if anyone present has been left unmoved.
The show continues. Four women in baby–doll bedclothes 'entertain' four men to a traditional tango valtz. They swirl around the small stage like a cloud of peripatetic, graceful and seductive fairies until the ending chord is played. A single singer takes to the stage. His shadow, topped by a trilby cocked like a fifties film star falls on the scarlet curtain behind him and the audience bellow their approval.
Each number tells a tiny story and has a flourishing finale. The woman vocalist has long dark hair a tiny waist, improbable breasts, a deep sensual voice and staggeringly sexy clothes. Once done she's lifted off the stage with a twist and flourish and the dancers return for a well–timed but frenetic milonga.
The choreography uses stage and bar area well and the audience shouts its appreciation for acrobatic flips and familiar songs. As the evening progresses the dancing becomes yet more athletic and the footwork faster. Women in period costume (and semi–undress) dance to the music of Roxanne from Moulin Rouge with their partners in full fifties day wear. Couples enhance the rhythm of Gallo Ciego until it feels like the heartbeat of the room. The ballad of Gricel is sung by the male singer and danced with humour and energy by the troupe. Each number ends so well and spectacularly that I wonder how the finale can top it.
The climax is split into two. The first is pure music. Each player performs a solo, taking the opportunity to shine. Then, flexible and fleet footed the troupe performs a complex number to an embellished musical form of the famous tune of La Cumparsita. The audience loves it, roars and claps for more.
This is show tango as it's dreamed of. As it's contrived to appear in films. It's slick, well produced and well rehearsed.
Visit Buenos Aires to learn tango, for the nightclubs, the wine, the shopping and polo but be sure to book a night at Rojo Tango. It's one you'll remember forever.
About the Show
This tango show is open to both hotel guests and visitors but book a place in advance to avoid disappointment. For show reservations call: 00 54 11 4010 9200
General information as well as tango news can be found at www.tourism.gov.ar
Or at the Latin America Travel Association. If you are interested in spending the night, see our review of Faena Hotel + Universe.
Other Tango Show Options in Buenos Aires
There are a large number of entertaining tango shows, many of which have a good standard but the Faena Tango experience is sans pareil. If you are determined to see more tango, try something completely different. Salon tango competitions are organised on a regular basis, usually around midnight in a completely different atmosphere and details can be found on the official tourism website. Street tango dancers are just for fun. Good dancers travel the world giving performances, workshops and lessons and don't need to dance on the street for cents. They're good for atmospheric photographs and a bit of fun but not much more.
If you are determined to see other dinner shows or 'spectaculars' or your budget doesn't stretch to the Faena, Esquina Carlos Gardel is well choreographed and rehearsed with attractive dancers, a slick set and better than average wine and food. Alternatively ask your concierge if there are any temporary or visiting acts in town. While there is no guarantee as to the standard of a new show at least the performers won't be tired of dancing the same thing to unappreciative tourists every night. However, if you decide to see more than one show, leave the Faena for last. It's better produced, better choreographed, has better costumes and is more consistently and enthusiastically danced. It will raise your expectations to such an extent that anything else will be disappointing.
The Alvear Palace offers a private tango package that includes hand–picked teachers and a visit to the Faena. While this is appropriate for those who really need privacy the best way to learn tango is in a group, as it's important to learn how it feels to dance with different people. The best performers are not always the best teachers and it is better to start with a recognised school than a famous name.
Tango schools can also be found on the official tourism site, and some of the better schools I've tried include:
Escuela Argentina de Tango, Carlos Copello School and at the Confitería Ideal.
Talk Tango Like the Natives
Codigo: the tango codigo is a set of guidelines that cover the etiquette of social dancing. It includes common sense courtesies such as the direction of dance as well as more obscure social niceties such as the manner by which a man and woman should agree to dance
Gallo Ciego: the "blinded rooster" of this song's title walks tall in spite of the damage incurred by its struggle to survive
Gricel: a famous tango ballad of love and loss
La Cumparsita: often called tango's most famous song and first played in Uruguay
Milonga: A dance related to tango with very fast footwork. Also a tango dance club
Porteño: Literally someone from 'the port' this has come to mean an indigent of Buenos Aires
Salon tango: tango danced socially in a milonga and according to a codigo
Show Tango: Tango for an audience, this has more exaggerated moves than social (Salon) tango
Tango Nuevo: Literally 'New Tango', while still recognisably tango this music has other influences and often has an electronic sound. Nuevo Tango bands include the Gotan Project and Astillero.
Valtz: The tango waltz
Story and photos by Carole Edrich
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