The Staller Center for the Arts was bursting with Latin music on Saturday, Oct. 28, as the famed dance group, Tango Buenos Aires, presented its recent collection of dances entitled “The Spirit of Argentina.”
This was not merely a display of fancy footwork, however. The show told the life story of Carlos Gardel, a singer, composer and actor known as the “Singing Thrush” of Argentina, whose energetic compositions helped spread the tango internationally like wildfire.
The highlight of the show was, naturally, the dancing. The dancers showed exquisite chemistry as their bodies moved in tune with the music. In addition to traditional tangos, the show included more abstract dances, such as when a group of dancers came on stage and tapped in place while swinging balls on strings that clacked in time with the music. It was a triumphant showcase of the human body, one that even those not familiar with the tango could enjoy.
The entire night was full of passionate music in addition to dancing. The rather small band, consisting only of a cello, a violin, a piano and two bandoneóns (the German cousins of the accordion that became popular in Argentina), made up for their small size by filling the auditorium with Gardel’s dance music. The music itself evoked images of classic 1920s and 30s ballrooms and musicals and had a Broadway-esque flair.
Gardel was born in Toulouse, France, on Dec. 11, 1890, and moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina with his mother at the age of three. At the start of his career, he took up singing and started performing at bars and private events. Gardel also composed songs on the side to accompany his singing. At 27, he became famous throughout Argentina after his hit recording of the song “Mi noche triste,” or “My Sad Night.” His fame continued to spread as he toured around South America.
Eventually, Gardel’s songs captivated movie producers at Paramount Pictures Corporation, who put him in a series of Spanish-language films to showcase his singing and movie star looks. As his career bloomed, Gardel was able to make the tango and other aspects of Latin musical culture more popular internationally. His career came to an abrupt end when he was killed in an airplane disaster over Colombia on June 24, 1935, devastating his fans. Thousands escorted his coffin through the streets of Buenos Aires at his funeral. Despite his relatively short career, Gardel’s influence can still be felt today, as the tango and his music continue to be performed internationally.
If you were expecting to learn more about Gardel from this performance, you will have to do more research, as I did above. The show depicts Gardel’s life in a very abstract way, with most of the important moments in his life being conveyed through dance. Not only are these dances not clear about why such moments like a soccer game are important – the dancers tango with a soccer ball at one point – but it is hard to even tell which person onstage is Gardel. And if you do not speak Spanish, you will be in the dark trying to follow the few lines of dialogue, which are recited entirely in Gardel’s native tongue.
Still, in the course of only a couple of hours, “The Spirit of Argentina” was able to expose me to the thrill of classic tango dancing and music, even if I could not track everything that happened on stage.