The word 'tanguera’ denotes a female tango dancer who sells her dancing and her body in the seedy cabarets of the Argentine capital.
And that’s the fate that befalls the beautiful French ingenue Giselle, newly arrived in Buenos Aires as part of a wave of European migrants that landed in the city at the turn of the last century in search of a better life.
As the dockworkers lark around, gradually the stage fills with a variety of migrants performing little cameo dances from their many countries of origin – Spain, Russia, Italy, Eastern Europe – to illustrate some of the influences that blended with the Argentine milonga the create the tango as we now know it.
In fact, it takes quite some time before the first tango steps are performed on stage. There’s is a lot of scene setting to get through… Giselle, performed by award-winning dancer Melody Celatti, disembarks; catches the eye of dockworker Lorenzo (Tanguera veteran Esteban Martín Domenichini). It’s love at first sight, of course.
Unfortunately, she also catches the eye of the gangster and pimp Gaudencio, the truly stupendous dancer Dabel Zanabria, and his side-kick, the brothel Madam, danced by Carla Chimenco.
They whisk Giselle off with honeyed, and totally false, promises; and thus the scene is set for a clash of goodies – Lorenzo’s fellow dockworkers – against baddies – Gaudencio’s gangster friends. Caught in the middle are the dancers and prostitutes.
The action is punctuated and linked by narrative songs performed by Marianella, who's billed in the programme as one of Argentina’s most important tango voices, but in keeping with this shows heavy nods towards Broadway, is more of a musical singer, an Argentine counterpart, perhaps, to Elaine Paige.
Tangera's tango numbers are never less than gripping. The ensemble of 30 dancers are technically accomplished, their intricate footwork enthralling. The women are seductive and impossibly sexy, the men domineering, very butch and very sexy in their own way. The true tango interplay between men and women, where both partners are by turns submissive and dominant, is superbly portrayed here.
By way of a parenthesis, it’s one of the tango’s many appealing facets that its very best dancers, the ones you simply cannot take your eyes off, are often the older ones, sometimes even the slightly more ungainly ones – until they start moving, that is. Dabel Zanabria, our villain Gaudencio, is one such dancer.
The lively, gritty and passionate choreography is by Mora Godoy, widely acknowledged as an authority on the tango.
But… but… but… There are too many long spells of posturing and vaguely hammy acting between dancing numbers to tell what is actually a rather thin story, and that slows the show down considerably, leaving you hungering for a lot more dancing. In reality, the most sustained sequence of dancing you get in the whole evening comes with the encores – be sure not to miss those.
Another problem is that if you don’t understand Spanish, you miss the poetic commentary on the action contained in the poignant lyrics of the songs. You’ll still be able to follow the story, of course, but an important element is missing.
Nevertheless, it is a show we are more than happy to recommend for its dancing, its portrayal of a key moment in the history the tango and indeed of Argentina, and its attempt to harness the fascinating language of this dance form to tell a story.
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
19 Jul 17 – 06 Aug 17, 19:30 Tues to Sat. Sun 19:00 Mat Sat & Wed 2nd Aug 14:30, Sun 14:00 No performance Mondays
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells website|