Once again it's time to tango! The hotdance ticket on Broadway a couple of seasons ago and a hit here last year, "Tango Argentino" is back in town -- this time at the Kennedy Center. The Opera House gives the dancers and onstage musicians more expanse than the Warner Theatre, site of their previous visit, but tempted someone to overmike the sound for last night's opening. That's easily fixed, though, and if the Opera House acoustics are what they're supposed to be it would be interesting to try using no microphones for at least one show in the run, which ends July 18.
It's a harsh sound and a tough strut, this authentic tango from Buenos Aires. Though the men sometimes dress up in tuxedos, one suspects they're wearing bulletproof vests underneath. The women aren't shy about raising a formal skirt to show a wicked half-boot. The cast looks as if it has stepped out of 1940s movies. They're grownups, with not a kid in sight. They shrug off beauty, sometimes try for glamor but always get down to business right away.
Both dancing the tango and perceiving it are said to be not only hard work but a state of mind. Those of us who aren't tangomanes can, nevertheless, detect a technique and a style. The alternation frequency of body parts is high: bent knee and straight knee, elbow high and low, left side forward and then right. The anatomical back-and-forth is like watching signal lights. The interlocking legwork between partners attains the speed of switchblade fights.
Tango rhythm in this show is strident. The harmony is like a rasp, not just from the accordions but also from the strings. The one flute is definitely not pastoral but an urban wind. The choreography this music supports has a variety of steps, but numbers tend to be brief. The only sample of developed movement was by the senior couple, Virulazo and Elvira, who elaborated separate footwork figures into intricate interchanges for the legs in an impressive assembly. Virulazo performs with the determination of a bulldog.
The one attempt to use the tango to tell a story wasn't convincing. This dancing depends on characterization, it creates atmosphere and it suggests locales, but its basic narrative is about the body in action. The story number, though, was an attempt to give added variety to "Tango Argentino," as were the selections by the musicians and four solo singers.
As one number followed another, even though the pace was rapid, one wondered if Kennedy Center shouldn't build still another performing space for the likes of "Tango Argentino." This show would be ideal in a nightclub.