Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Milonga turns traditional tango on its head (4 stars)

Dance Review: Milonga

This journey through tango entwines subtle, sophisticated poetry with razor sharp showmanship

Though there are fireworks aplenty in this tango work from Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, on equal footing are the moments of cool detached elegance. Sections where dancers come into clockwork unison and passages of elegiac yearning, where one woman disintegrates among a pack of others.

It's not that everything you think you know about tango has been tossed aside, rather that Cherkaoui's piece places the dance in a variety of contexts: social, narrative, traditional, expressive, even flirting at one point with elements of clown.

Milonga takes its name from the social incarnation of Argentinian tango where partners rotate every few songs, and so it's inevitable that the dominant form here is the duet. But Cherkaoui even subverts this, creating looping, shadowing ensembles; couples unwillingly encumbered with an extra body squeezed between them, and the strange, unhappy sight of a dancer without a partner.

At one point a trio of men posture and entwine to Piazzolla's Libertango – the balance of the three bodies, almost identical in height, weight and power, is a striking revision of tango's traditional imbalance of gender, and consequently size, speed and flight.

But it is this very dynamic that creates some of the piece's showstoppers: a screaming match unfolding into a rich pattern of pulling and obstructing, the intimacy of a man pressing his partner's foot into a painstaking stretch, legs slicing the air as if they are cutting silk, and the penultimate showdown of outrageous glamour and wild poetry.

Immersed in all the nuanced possibilities of tango as dance expression, Milonga still clings, as tightly as its performers embrace each other, to the dance's soul.

Milonga

Celebrated choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui presents a piece inspired by the late-night milonga scene in the intimate bars of Buenos Aires.

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