Thalia Spanish Theatre
41-17 Greenpoint Avenue
Sunnyside, Queens, New York, NY
This show runs from January 22 to March 28, 2004
February 19, 2004
TANGOmania is a gem of a show in a gem of a theatre in Queens.
All of the dancers danced well. The musicians were worth listening to. They had a very crisp sound, played emphatically. Each instrument was clearly delineated, yet they also were working in concert. No wonder the dancers danced so well. The lighting, by Angel Gil, was well designed. For example, during those numbers where the band played alone, there was subtle yet effective use of the lighting to help the audience focus on the primary instruments at each point in the song. I should also add that there was plenty of legroom in front of the comfortable seats.
At one point the bass player was playing his bass like he was urging a race horse on to the finish line, beating first on one side and then on the other. This playing style fit with the orchestration, but it also fit with the video of Carlos Gardel that was shown at the start of the show which included a racetrack scene.
The show has a thin narrative consisting of a journey from Argentina to Paris to New York and back to Argentina. While there is a lot of singing and some dialogue in Spanish, you don't need to understand Spanish to get the essential flavor of the journey. Both the director, Angel Gil Orrios, and the choreographer, Mariana Parma, deserve some credit for this. Each scene also featured appealing characters that humanized what would have otherwise been a pure dance work. I think the show can be appreciated both by people who like pure dance and by people who need a little story with their soup. By and large the show works as a cultural paean.
There are a few things in the show that do not work. One of them, in my opinion, was the Libertango section. Here the cast wanders around stage angrily reading newspapers, before throwing them to the floor and shouting "Libertad". It eventually became clear that the director was trying to make a point about the suffering that Argentina has endured over the years. I agree that this is an important point to make, but as it was enacted in such a short scene, it didn't work so well. At first I thought maybe the cast was reacting to an unfair review. This scene shows the risks involved in trying to tell a complex story with a mostly pure dance show. It was confusing and from a design perspective it was jarringly darker than any other scene. I recommend that it be removed from the current show, and then used as the seed of a daughter show specifically addressing Argentina's travails.
Both singers were phenomenal. Now I know why it is traditional to not dance to sung Tangos. If either Marga Mitchell or Miguel Angel Montiel were singing at a milonga, you would be compelled to be still and listen by the sheer force and quality of their voices. There were several numbers with just singing and no dancing. Each was a pleasure to listen to. There was only one small problem. Early in the show they used very large microphones that blocked the singer's face. I realize that it is authentic to have a large mike right in the singer's face given the time period they were portraying, but I didn't think the mike was that central to the narrative or the design. They should get rid of it, lower it or find some way so it doesn't block the singers so much because both Marga and Miguel are very expressive. Later on in the show, during the Paris section, Marga sang without the mike and proved my point. Both her face and her body moved appealingly and in concert with her voice. This is all a minor criticism because the quality of their voices always came through, but I think that if you have such great singers in your cast, you should keep them as unchained as possible, especially in a dance show.
I noticed a possible relationship between the mood of certain dance numbers and an element of dance technique often referred to as floor pressure. Floor pressure can be continuous, meaning that the dancer keeps an even amount of pressure directed into the floor with the feet and thus almost never picks the feet up off of the floor, or it can be discontinuous, where the dancer picks the feet up and steps each movement. In a performance context, neither choice is wrong. What I noticed though, was that the lighter, happier dance numbers seemed to use a lot of discontinuous floor pressure, while the heavier, darker dance number tended to use continuous floor pressure. My hypothesis, based on this limited data, is that a choreographer could influence the mood of a dance by adjusting the relative continuity of the floor pressure that is used.
The costumes in the show, by Soledad Lopez and Amparo Fuertes, were great. These included, in addition to those mentioned elsewhere, an elegant black gown with red accents, an orange dress that is probably capable of stopping a tank battalion by itself, and lots of funky hats in the Paris scene.
The dancing started off with Sandra and Max portraying a working class couple at the end of the work day (Milonga Parrillera). A petty dispute dissolves into Tango mediated bliss. They were very lithe. The choreography was very snappy. Their expert dancing just goes to show that anyone who tells you that you are supposed to look depressed while dancing Tango is wrong. (Their floor pressure was discontinuous - see the academic digression earlier in this review.)
Mariana and Carlos danced A Don Agustin Bardi. Mariana looked stunning in an electric blue dress. She was smooth and smoldering. She couldn't have danced so well without the strong support from her partner. Carlos swept Mariana through the air in a fan that made the air around her move and made the air at the other side of the room jealous.
Ting and Caleb danced a tango to Michelangelo 70 as if on an express train, expressing a full complement of pleasure and pain, as only tango can.
Act II was set in Paris in an elegant parlor accented with Tiffany lamps and inhabited by dancers in white tie and tails. The stage crew is to be commended for the efficient scene change. The band also managed to change into tuxedos with no lag in the show. Mariana set the tone for this act by making her partner kiss her four times on the cheek as greeting, in the classic Parisian style.
Sandra and Max danced passionate but upbeat choreography marked by many fans and adornments (Nostalgico). The floor pressure was also somewhat discontinuous, but in this case this was mostly necessitated by the type of movements that were chosen.
In Jalousie, Ting and Caleb made good use of a chair to play with levels.
In Silueta Porteña, Mariana used small steps to portray a girl with perfect sweetness who also has a metaphorical knife hidden on her body that she is fully prepared to use if she doesn't get her way. She performed a well balanced sit-n-spin. (I'm sure there is some more correct term for the move, but that's what it looked like.) This number showed that Mariana has a command of comic timing. It also showed off her talents because the movement style was markedly different from that used in her first number.
Mariana and Carlos followed up with a New York based number called La Yumba. This was a swanky tango danced with that swing, yet was also very grounded. Both Mariana and Carlos had good balance as he held her upside down in the final pose of this number.
The show then moved to what could have been the 60s or the 70s with the entire cast. This was a fantastical tango-cha-cha featuring all three couples and lots of rotating lifts.
The show then enters the section where the cast agonizes over events in Argentina.
Fuga Y Misterio features a series of back lit, high energy crosses, one couple at a time. All three couples looked good in this section.
As Marga decides to return to Argentina, Mariana dances with a large, heavy cape in a strong paso-ish touch. She made twirling the cape look effortless.
In the end, both singers return to Argentina. They are joined by all three couples in red dresses and modern looking black tuxedos with very clean lines. The choreography here had appealing offsets. All of the dancers were driving hard down the line of dance to the big finish.
I thoroughly enjoyed TANGOmania. The dancing is great, and the music and singing are phenomenal.
Singers: Marga Mitchell Miguel Angel Montiel
Dancers: Mariana Parma & Carlos Acuña, Sandra Buratti & Maximiliano "Gytano" Paradiso, Ting Chin & Caleb Cain Marcus
Bandoneon Master: Raul Jaurena
Pianist: Maurizio Najt
Violinist: Mikhail Kuchuk
Bassist: Ken Filiano
Guitarist: Ruben Isola
Stage Manager: Hector Palacios
Sound Engineer: Wilberto Madera
Costume Designer: Soledad Lopez
Costumes made by: Amparo Fuertes
Set and lighting designer: Angel Gil
Technical director: Anthony Martinez
Choreographer: Mariana Parma
Musical Director and arranger: Raul Jaurena
Produced and Directed by: Angel Gil Orrios
Also see Robert Abrams' interview with Mariana Parma. Mariana is currently organizing a benefit show for Rosa Collantes. Contact her through her website at www.marianaparma.com if you are interested in helping out or attending.