One of the tricks to successful performance tango is a good balance between staging and the dance itself. Too much of a story line is hokey. Too little can leave the audience bored. Tango Buenos Aires has just the right combination. On Sunday at the George Mason University Center for the Arts, the minimal settings of tango parties and salons in the 1930s through 1950s (known as the golden age of tango) set off the crisp dancing and allowed the superb orchestra to shine.
Tango, which originated in the slums around Buenos Aires in the mid-19th century, did not have a straight trajectory from smoky clubs to today's international stages. It was all the rage as a salon dance in Paris in the 1920s, and it waned and gained in popularity for a century and a half at home, where for years it has been performed onstage as much as in clubs. In the 1950s, for example, live tango shows were staged in cinemas between films.
The easy confidence that comes from such a gradually evolved performance style softened the obvious constructs (settings, characters, situations, story lines) set in place by Tango Buenos Aires' director of choreography, Hector Falcon, to give the entire arc of the performance structure and tempo.
All 16 dancers were at the top of their game. Their technical wizardry was consistent throughout the program. Their most exciting moments, however, came when their minds and hearts shone through, which happened most often when they were dancing with their usual partners. Toward the end of the program, for example, Natalia Cecilia Lavandeira -- who until then had sparked interest more for her rhubarb-red hair and cool dancing -- erupted in a blaze of legs and feet with her partner Omar Horacio Merlo ("Libertango"). That kind of speed and synchronization works only when it is second nature, and when that nature comes from a meeting of the minds.
The orchestra, led by Fernando Marzan (at the piano), proved that it takes two to tango well onstage: dance and music. The program's complex, almost gruff works by the late Astor Piazzolla ("Verano Porteno," "Libertango," and "Piazzolla Potpourri") require superb musicianship. Piazzolla studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1950s, and his arrangements are demanding. Violinist Angel Ridolfi Humberto; Osvaldo Daniel Ruggiero, a virtuoso on the bandoneon, a reed instrument similar to an accordion; pianist Marzan; bassist Roberto Enrique Santocono; and guitarist Alejandro Frederico Sancho tossed off the arrangements with an ease that bordered on insolence.
That roguish attitude, realized through skillful dancers and musicians and held in check by artful staging, created a powerhouse of a program.