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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the August 11, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: ‘Forever Tango’

Against a backdrop of a starry night, the figure of a young man rises out of a large bandoneon (a sort of slinky accordion). It’s a surreal image to be sure, but dancer Gabriel Ortega has answered the plaintive call of the instrument to reach out for his ideal woman dancer Sandra Bootz, who has appeared as a shimmering specter out of the darkness. Their contact is fleeting as she disappears as in a dream. His heart is broken, but our hearts quicken with the overture and the pulsating sound of the 11 piece tango orchestra (heavy on the bandoneon) that spans the stage of the Shubert Theater where "Forever Tango" is taking seductive course. We never doubt that Bootz and Ortega will return to perform the breathtaking lifts and body locks that all the dancers of "Forever Tango" are famous for.

You can (as the song says) "Take back your samba ay, your mambo, ay, your cha cha, ay yi yi." Just don’t ever take away the tango, the body-entwining dance that has been celebrating Argentinean passions and temperaments for more than 100 years. If you are predisposed to love the tango, you should not miss the revamped "Forever Tango" (making its first Broadway return engagement since 1997), which, like its predecessors "Tango Argentino," and "Tango Apasionado," has as its aim to embrace us with the world’s most sensuous music and movement. If you are not, by nature, intoxicated by the tango’s "indecent intimations," you might consider staying home. However, if there is fire in your blood, don’t miss it.

Born out of sadness and loneliness, the tango mirrors its culture and its volatile emotional underpinnings like no other musical form. What sets this entertainment apart from the others is creator-director Luis Bravo’s attempt to progressively follow the evolution of the dance as it emerged out of the squalor of the barrios of Argentina and Uruguay into the middle class dance halls and high society parlors. Watch the eight couples closely and you will see that their dances express loneliness and lust as much as they do an indisputable arrogance and attitude. Each of the dance teams has created its own choreography. This explains the highly individualized tangos and their necessarily commercialized, but never imitative, technique.

The tango first asserted itself in brothels where violence was as common as jealousy and the knife as visible as the cheap wine and cocaine. A twisting body and leg-locking confrontation between two knife-wielding toughs in a brothel ends with a bang (yes, there is a gunshot). But the scene opens with a dance that establishes the relationships between the men and the prostitutes. Upper bodies tend toward stiffness, legs slice the air and grip the partner’s body, while gazes are fixed and fired by desire. Wow!

The company of handsome and sensuous dancers, including Jorge Torres, Marcela Duran and Guillermina Quiroga, Gabriel Ortega and Sandra Bootz, Carlos Vera and Laura Marcarie, Francisco Forquera and Natalia Hills, Marcelo Bernadaz and Veronica Gardella, Claudio Gonzalez and Melina Brufman, Alejandra Gutty and Juan Paulo Horvath, step into this starlit dream of passion with their own uniquely choreographed interpretations. Each in turn gets the spotlight to both reinvent and pay homage to the tango, its many forms and styles and changes over time. The wickedness of the "prohibited" tango as it was danced by the middle class in the early 1900s is contrasted against the Parisian point of view in the 1930s. By the 1940s it is satirized to make sport of the macho image and the coquette. However, there is in all the dances a connection made between the fiery, earthy, and necessarily crude/lewd drama of street life and the dance itself.

Soloists, couples, and ensembles fiercely, gently and, at times, even humorously, take their turns. Gonzalez and Brufman were high among audience favorites as they interpreted many of the traditional tango steps with a free-wheeling sense of farce. Whether influenced by the milonga, habanera, Indian rhythms, or the African candombe, which black slaves beat out of their drums, the tango, more than any other folk or popular dance, has examined the ultimate dance of ecstasy and life. As demonstrated by this exceptionally good-looking company of young and mature dancers, the tango is as varied and rich a statement of life as movement as has ever been choreographed.

Just as in the greatest of dramas, there is tension in the tango. If the extravagantly and entertainingly executed dances do anything, they seethe. Bodies interlock, intertwine, whirl, spin and at times just pose in this often philosophical expose of tango. It is easy to see and experience the desolation and emotional pain of the tango.

Under the exciting musical direction of Victor Lavallen, the accomplished musicians provide pulse-racing tango interludes. Getting a solo spot in each act was warmly received singer Miguel Velazquez. While all the music is gorgeous, none is more familiar than the eternal "Jealousy," given a rhapsodic rendition by the orchestra. The elegance of Argemira Affonso’s mostly glittering black costumes and the brilliance of Luis Bravo’s lighting enhanced this exhilarating entertainment.

– Simon Saltzman

"Forever Tango" (though August 29th); Shubert Theater, 225 West 44th Street. Tickets: $45 to $85. Call 212-239-6200.

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