Mar 19, 2016 Theatre
They weren’t the only ones enamoured with Belgian-Morrocan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s celebration of Argentine tango last night; the applause at ASB Theatre seemed never-ending, a standing ovation deemed appropriate by a handful.
So why didn’t I feel the same? Perhaps it’s because I wanted the show to be more than a tango showcase. I’d read about Cherkaoui’s previous works, brave interpretations of dance traditions from other cultures (Indian classical dance, Shaolin warrior monks, flamenco) and expected to be challenged by tango. I wanted to leave feeling differently about the tradition, I wanted gender roles to be deconstructed, I wanted to be amazed by the human body’s ability to move as frenetically as an electronic egg beater while remaining extraordinarily graceful.
At points I was. Half-way through a show mostly devoted to the interactions between men and women as tango is wont to do (man sees woman, woman sees man, woman pushes man away, man scoops her up, repeat) contemporary dancer Jennifer White breaks with milonga convention to dance a partner-less dance. It articulated exasperation with a world obsessed with coupledom, the kind any Aucklander on Tinder will relate to. Her body slid across a floor meant for stiletto heels, her hair a loose and river-like refusal of the tight tango bun, her physical strength her voice. It was a rad and empowering moment, until it culminated with her jumping into the arms of a man, fetus-like.
Projections are used to varying degrees of success throughout M¡longa to transport us to the streets of Buenos Aires, to fill the stage with people and to mirror the dancers’ movements in delayed, satisfying rhythms, perhaps inspired by Beyonce’s 2011 Billboard Awards performance. At one point a dancer “conducts” a series of video clips with his hands, enlarging and swiping away montages like a dad showing off his new iPhone. It’s cheesy but transporting, a glimpse of the exotic.
I slipped away into thoughts of what I was going to eat after the show towards the last third of the performance, by which point there wasn’t enough novelty to counteract the soporific thrum of live double bass. But as I resisted heavy eyelids, I looked around me and could only see smiling, entranced faces. I sat higher in my seat and took in the final ensemble sequence, concentrating hard on each precisely placed foot and subtly guiding male hand. It was technically brilliant, but didn’t ignite the excitement of that glimpse of solo brilliance. I’m clearly the exception; if contemporary tango by world-class dancers set to a live score sounds like your kind of thing, go. You’ll love it.
M¡longa. ASB Theatre, to 20 March.
Photograph: Tristram Kenton