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Tango Fever in the Buenos Aires of North America: an elegant close to the first Montreal International Tango Festival

by Claire Parois
July 23, 2003

Tango Fever in the Buenos Aires of North America: an elegant close to the first Montreal International Tango Festival

Claire Parois
July 23, 2003

More than 350 aficionados danced the night away at the closing ball of the first edition of the Montreal International Tango Festival, held on July 13 in what some call the "Buenos Aires of North America."

"Thanks to all of you for making Montreal such an important city for tango in North America," proclaimed choreographer Gerardo Sánchez in a Spanish-accented French. Chilean-born Sánchez has been the director of Tango Libre since he founded it ten years ago. The week-long festival marked the anniversary of the small, yet prominent dance company.

The international tangueros who gathered in the vast, dimly lighted room were clearly confirmed and dedicated dancers. On the packed dance floor, couples were turning and gliding to the sound of the live performance of Trio Tango Libre and the vinyl-sounded discs. All without effort, it seemed. Arnaud Lucas, a Frenchman living in Washington, enthusiastically explained that it is because "the step is less important than the movement of the whole body, which has to be unhesitant."

"Tonight is exceptional," recognized Nicolas Lavoie, who has been a habitué on the local scene for four years, "there is easily two or three times more people here than in milongas during a normal week." About half of the crowd traveled to Canada especially for the festival. Among them, many came from Boston, New York and Texas. They were American but also French, Indian and, of course, Argentinean. Several knew each other for frequenting the same tango circles internationally. "The very minute I stepped in tonight, I recognized a lady I have been dancing with in a festival in Miami a few months ago," said Lucas while slipping into dance shoes and leaving his everyday pair among the dozens under the tables.

The program put together by Tango Libre and the Buenos Aires-based organization World Tango Festival Productions was remarkably dense. A total of 90 workshops were offered throughout the week. Participants could choose between a package of classes and the "à la carte" formula. Each day closed with a show, a milonga, or both. Sunday was the last evening for local and external participants to congregate before going back to their nine-to-five routine on Monday.

Deep into the night, organizers gave a formal welcome in three languages to the guests and participants. "Thanks to you all tangueras and tangueros who made this festival possible tonight and in the past week," said the president of World Tango Festival Productions Daniel Rofman.

The eight tango masters who taught classes as guest instructors received a special homage. Living legends Gloria and Eduardo Arquimbau were present, as well as Milena Plebs and Ezequiel Farfaro. World Tango Festival Arts Directors Aurora Lubiz and Jorge Firpo along with Eduardo Cappussi and Mariana Flores, renowned for their theatrical executions, completed the team. The four elegant women, in black or red dresses, stepped on the deserted dance floor as Gerardo Sánchez distributed souvenir plates commemorating the event.

One was also given to Zula for her contribution to the organization of the festival evenings. Zula, a Uruguayan woman who goes by her first name only ("even in the phone book," she said), has volunteered in many Montreal arts associations. "This is the funniest thing that happened to me," she explained in Spanish and in a laughter, "they gave me the same award as the best tango dancers in the world and I do not know the slightest thing about tango."

Followed a series of breathtaking demonstrations by the teachers and students of Tango Libre. Instructors Cécile Facal and Benoît Castelnérac displayed a succession of "leg embellishments" that drew a great deal of cheers among the connoisseur audience. Alex Tang danced traditional tango moves on a very modern composition of his own. Sophie Kobrynsky gave an unconventional show, mixing tango and milonga steps and carrying her partner, a much taller woman. The exhibitions ended with a ten-woman choreography.

As people started to leave, Color Tango created the surprise of the evening by giving a spontaneous performance. The great tango ensemble was invited for the first time in Montreal for two concerts at the festival. They only played three songs but the sustained applause forced them to come back for a couple of encores.

Around 1:30am, most of the tables had been cleared but the dance floor was still crowded as some of the most devoted tangueros in the world danced the night away.

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