sun 23/06/2024

Tanguera, Sadler's Wells Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Tanguera, Sadler's Wells Theatre

Tanguera, Sadler's Wells Theatre

Limp hybrid dansical with a strangely offensive storyline

Tanguera: a tepid dansical in clichéd sub-West End style with little to do with tango's cutting edgeProduction photos Manuel Navarro de la Fuente/Sadler's Wells

Strange listening to Sadler’s Wells chief Alistair Spalding timidly defending “cutting-edge” dance on yesterday’s Radio 4 arts debate - having just been to the current SWT dance show, Tanguera.

Supposedly giving a smash-hit new international spin on tango (it comes warmly endorsed by its patron Daniel Barenboim), Tanguera is no more than a tepid dansical in soft-focus sub-West End style, with some not great dancing and the kind of dramaturgy that belongs back in the 19th century in dubious improving pamphlets for young women.

I am tired and offended by those box-office chestnuts where the heroine dancer/ singer/ actress “must” sacrifice innocence and become a prostitute to become a star. Yes, there’s been Manon the ballet, Cabaret and Chicago the musicals and Edith Piaf/ Billie Holiday the star disaster movies (and the rest). But all of them have awareness and vigour in them - none of them smells so much of toothpaste, air-freshener and the accountancy department as this.

I find it distasteful to see a grisly trade represented in charming ensembles for elegant girls (admittedly looking a bit grumpy) lilting around in high-gloss dresses, untrammelled by abortions, sexual diseases or black eyes, merely reeling aside occasionally as their male partners (gangster chaps in two-tone shoes) feint a blow at them in time to the music. It’s all the odder because good tango dancing (such as occasionally Sadler's is capable of hosting) will float its blood-stained associations menacingly in the air just by the whittled edge of the couples' performance, only we don't get that here.

Everything about Tanguera is hybrid, which is where the problem lies. The choreography is a flavourless fusion of tango and contemporary musical-theatre that downgrades both into generic slide, high kick and knee-wrap. The show is a hybrid of sung drama and dance history, with an over-amplified band (you can't tell they're live) and a central singer, Marianella, a short mature blonde whose past career as Grizabella in an Argentinian Cats isn’t the only thing that makes her resemble Elaine Paige. She has one of those richly throbbing alto voices that are de rigueur for tango, but some dreadful songs to sing that advance the plot (sample line for the arriving immigrant: “The passion of the south will free us up”) without the smallest lyrical interest in human self-awareness.

The tanguera of the title is a French dancer (named Giselle - cliché?) trying her fortune in the Argentinian port and being sucked into the world of gangster tango clubs. I feel heartily sorry for anyone cast as Giselle since she hasn’t one happy moment, doomed to be flung about between men like a bag of washing in messily tango-ential style. But even so Leticia Fallacara is a charisma-free zone.

Tanguera_menThe best tango, while no doubt once descriptive of emotional power struggles between possessive men and possessed women, is a refined duel between two dancers so electrically wired together you couldn’t slip a razor blade between their bodies. The nearest we get to that here is an unidentified soubrette couple who have two fast, upbeat dances that for a moment triumph as dance. Even so, the freshest, least pretentious moments are two men-only numbers, where camaraderie and the laddish lack of polish give the sharply fencing legs the air of down-and-dirty street combat.

The oily gangster villain Junior Cervila has the fork-lift-truck forcefulness that you expect of tango men, and Esteban Domenichini (pictured right) has a nice restraint as Giselle’s love interest. But I’m puzzled as to why it was thought a clever idea to field the 75-year-old Maria Nieves in several featured dances, an indulgence by the company for a veteran tanguera better kept between friends.

Giselle is doomed to be flung about between men like a bag of washing in messily tango-ential style

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