Impressions of: Estampas Porteñas Tango Company’s "Deseos: Stories of Longing and Desire" at Brooklyn Center for Performing Arts
Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts’ Walt Whitman Theatre, New York
Saturday, November 5, 2016, 8PM
Artistic Director and Conceptual Creator: María Carolina Soler Alencastre
Choreography by Osmar Odone and Sol Viviano; Fabian Serna (for Malambo)
Lead Singer: Emiliano Castignola
Dancers: Sabrina Amuchastegui (lead, Margot) and Cesar Coelho (lead, Charlo)
“The tango.” These words often conjure a couple enraptured by passion. Then comes an image of the gancho, or the “hook” leg flick that’s become one of the form’s most recognized flourishes. In Deseos: Stories of Longing and Desire we’re delivered the couple and the passion, a satisfying flurry of ganchos, and more. Estampas Porteñas Tango Company, just shy of its 20th anniversary, shares an ode to its beloved home of Buenos Aires with this evening-length work. This includes the traditions intrinsic to its culture — with tango centerstage.
Now, partner dance styles in a concert dance setting run the risk of feeling overly showy, or a little too Dancing With the Stars. But Deseos features an assortment of artists as well as a storyline and multimedia, making for an authentically ensemble production. In fact, it feels like a ballet (surely a nod to Artistic Director María Carolina Soler Alencastre’s early training). Alongside a corps of over a dozen dancers and a quintet of musicians, a love story ensues. We follow Margot (Sabrina Amuchastegui) on her journey to Buenos Aires, leaving her Charlo (Cesar Coelho) behind. That is, until he decides to go after her, encountering the city’s milongas (dance parties), cabarets, and nightclubs along the way.
During Margot’s farewell party, a dance competition among the men breaks out just as casually as the card game before. Side-by-side, they strive to dazzle with the most intricate, swiftly-executed footwork, accented with zapateos (foot stomping) and the occasional knee-spin. This scene sparks a recurring presence of male bravado and the larger plot theme of dance as a societal norm.
The ladies take on a subtler role (at first). The swirl of their skirts and soft hip moves add a feminine, flirty touch to the fervency of their partners. This is especially embodied by the long-limbed Amuchastegui, as Margot. In addition to her notable tango technique throughout, she gives an unexpected and balletic solo as part of a beautiful, piano-accompanied, dreamscape.
Meanwhile, prominent projections accompany the movement-told narrative. Often, these visuals amplify the ambience: suddenly we’re in a bedroom, train station, ballroom, or brothel. A projection mapping method adds movement and distortion to the images, which works well in transitional moments. However, near the show’s end, literal images of Argentina and a montage of tango legends past distract from our otherwise narrative journey.
By act two, we’ve entered a sexier, more sinful world, echoed in Leandro Sanchez’s costumes. Margot is taken to the cabaret by a strange man and sold to the Madame of the House, while Charlo continues his search. The pure dance vignettes that follow hold more meaning when armed with the context that prostitutes served as largely the only female presence in tango’s early development. Now the women, their body lines, are highlighted as a collective and granted a commanding presence. No more is the toss of skirt gentle; it’s aggressive and leg-baring. The partner work — particularly the lifts — embrace the most daring choreography of the show.
Yes, at its core, Deseos sets out to pay homage to Argentina through this wild, dance-studded, romance (spoiler alert: they reunite). However, the underlying story of tango, its history and growth, cannot be overlooked. It’s a genre that thrives on its eccentricities, fuses European, African, and Central American influences, and lends both men and women moments of power — all of which we experience.