Remember when I openly ridiculed the phrase ”a certain unexpressed sensual sadness” when describing San Telmo in my second blog post? It shouldn’t be a very hard to recall, our archives are shallow. Well, I haven’t changed my mind on the melodramatic language and still would never use such words to describe my adopted neighborhood, but I better understand it now than I did when I first wrote the post. Even more, it becomes redundant when taken within the context of the entire description (“If you think of tango, romance, and…), for it is that ornate phrase that most completely embodies tango itself.
Tango is everywhere in Buenos Aires, and we always intended on checking out a show. We happened upon this show by accident, originally wanting to simply eat at the restaurant that overlooks Plaza Dorrego on my birthday, but when they asked us if we wanted to make a reservation for the tango show, we could not resist the chance to witness one of Argentina’s gifts to the world. Just as America claims jazz as one of its national treasures, Argentina, and Buenos Aires in particular, projects itself as the home of tango dance and music. And just as jazz finds its origins in blues music that was born out of the struggles of African-Americans, tango holds a similar history as an artistic expression of the lower class in Buenos Aires (and, it must be noted, in Montevideo, Uruguay). The dance and music that accompanies it come from the slums of Buenos Aires, where poor immigrants searched for an outlet to express the hardships after relocating from Europe (like many American cities, Buenos Aires was a popular destination for impoverished western Europeans looking to escape the squalor of their continental cities during the nineteenth century. It still remains a confluence of various European cultures, namely Spanish and Italian, but architecturally French, which is a big reason why some refer to BsAs as the Paris of South America) The downtrodden immigrants borrowed elements of European dances (primarily the Spanish habanera) to create something distinctly porteño, a sensual manifestation of their sad plight.
I do not claim to be a tango expert, especially since our first and only tango experience took place at a somewhat touristy restaurant, not at one of many milongas (tango dance halls) that litter the neighborhood and city as a whole. Not only do I have nothing to compare this show to, but I acknowledge that it wasn’t the most authentic locale, which could render my comments applicable to our show and others like it, but not to tango in general.
Still, what I did see was a dance saturated with sensuality and sadness. The two dancers, a male and a female (it takes two to tango), who alternated between very traditional and roaring twenties garb, would dance for one song at a time. Indeed, some of these songs were more upbeat and lighthearted, with both sporting subtle smiles; but the majority of their tango vignettes were set to slow paced songs and accompanied by long, sweeping movements with occasional flurries of staccato leg waving and foot tapping. These beautiful, controlled outbursts, reminded me of two birds ruffling their feathers and shuffling their feat in an attempt to court the other, which emitted a palpable sensuality to the affair. The sadness, for me, comes primarily from the music, which sounds like a voice crying out for someone to listen to its heartbreaking story. When there is vocal accompaniment, the voices often sound desperate in their struggle. In addition, the male dancer inspired sadness in me. For much of the dance (with the picture to the left not an example), the woman wore the previously mentioned subtle smile, whereas the male’s face looked focused with stoic, unfulfilled desire, unsure if whether or not the woman’s smile stemmed from dancing with him or just the dance itself. Their faces would nearly touch, even appearing to approach a kiss, only to separate once more and continue the steps. But the male never let on that he was frustrated by these close encounters that failed to come to fruition, at times looking as though he had come to accept this sad fate. I’m not sure if this was an intended effect or if I was reading too far into the performance, but coupled with the music (and maybe the wine), I couldn’t help but envision the man’s despair as the sadness of a possibly unrequited love. Or, more likely, it was merely a reflection of the general sadness in his life as a poor immigrant being oppressed by the powers that be. Either one works for me. I’m thinking another show is in order for further research into the matter.
The show and delicious lomo we dined on made for a great and unique birthday celebration. Thanks again to all emails, Facebook messages, and the like wishing me a happy birthday, I appreciate the love. And if you didn’t send along anything, I won’t hold it against you...for too long. Here are some additional pictures from the evening.