Thursday, 31 January 2019

REVIEW: Tango Fire - The Peacock Theatre, London


It is January - midsummer - the Portenos of Buenos Aires are populating the streets in their finery; basking in the sunshine and staying up all night in the balmy temperatures. Smells of the finest freshly barbequed food waft out from the numerous restaurants and cafes, bottles of rich Mendoza Malbec flow freely...and people are beginning to dance: impromptu, improvised displays on the labyrinth of street corners that lead to the main square of the historic San Telmo - by now just visible by the old wrought iron street lights. There is Tango everywhere, with its many onlookers transfixed and applauding. The curtain is up and we are - quite literally - transported to the vibrant Argentinian capital as Tango Fire begins its seventh season at London’s Peacock Theatre.

The start of the show had a late afternoon, 1950s ‘street’ feel to it, brightly lit with dancers in full black and white floral skirts, mingling with the audience and casually sitting and watching one another as they took it in turns to treat us to some relaxed Tango Foxtrot with their partners. Once we were ‘broken in’ the tempo became decidedly more upbeat: the lights dimmed and swift costume changes revealed more slim-lined, tailored appareil cleverly cut for maximum ‘gancho’ kicks: the tango-defining leg swing. This smooth but energetic section was brilliantly executed, with each pair treating us to a glorious display of their incredible technical skills, effortlessly traversing the stage to a range of complex tempos. The last group dance before the interval - The Tango La Cumparasita (the most famous and recognisable of dances within the genre - often ‘the last dance of the evening’) - was a visual delight, where the complex. rhythmic sounds seamlessly translated into a unified motion that enveloped the stage with tangible passion and fire.

The staging of Tango Fire was simple but very effective - a stripped back version of an earlier incarnation I saw seven years ago. The raised area had the four musicians silhouetted against a plain backdrop, that enabled a huge palette of colours to effectively light the performers, create atmosphere and define the mood. Added to this visual feast were a plethora of costumes that were no less than fabulous - the female dancers in particular undergoing many changes of outfits in jewel-like colours, beautifully cut and suitably embroidered and sequined to enhance every stage of this lavish spectacle.

The ever-present band ‘Quarteto Fuego’ were very much the centrepiece of the show, either driving what has been described as the “intricate and symbolic relationship between music and the sensuality of dance” or treating us to one of many set pieces - thus creating effective continuity to a show that could otherwise have been hampered by the numerous costume changes. Comprising of four young virtuosi in their own right, they effortlessly navigated the complex timings and defining rhythmic patterns of the music, with some superb group and solo performances. The guttural violin playing of Gemma Scalia that defined the passion and grit embodied in the Tango art form, stayed with me long after the performance had ended.

Tango Fire was conceived by Buenos Aires-born German Cornejo, now considered to be one of the top choreographers in the world. His work first hit London audiences at the Peacock with Tango Inferno in 2011 and has been playing annually to packed houses ever since. With his partner Gisela Galeassi, their ‘Susu’ - Tango Adagio - in the second half was one of many beautifully controlled and at times mind-boggling set pieces by the six couples that make up the company. In turn they fired up the stage with their technical brilliance, in particular on display in their ‘Show Tango’ pieces (whereby the Tango genre is infused with acrobatics and ballet) which had the audience, quite frankly, in raptures. Despite the show coming to an almost abrupt halt at the end, it nevertheless earned itself several standing ovations, shouts for encores and continuous applause. This packed multi-generational audience were clearly fired up and energised by what they had witnessed, with septuagenarians and teenagers on their feet together in delighted unison!

And as the curtain finally came down, the 70-something couple who had been sitting beside me said “We braved the threat of snow and came anyway. Maybe the ‘cumparasita’ could have been slower... more passionate; but the second half more than made up for that... an amazing performance!”

It was indeed a mesmerising production with a very wide appeal, which if anything, will get even more into its stride as the run progresses.

Reviewer - Georgina Elliott
on - 29/1/19

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