writers on dancing


Tango Lite

Joyce Theater
New York, NY
July 27, 2004

By Susan Reiter
copyright © 2004 by Susan Reiter
published August 9, 2004

Putting on his Ballet Argentino hat and leaving behind Siegfried and Franz and his other ABT guises, Julio Bocca has settled in for a three-week run (through August 14) of a swiftly-paced, entertaining, if ultimately superficial, program that bends and extends the possibilities of the tango. Choreographed by Anna Maria Stekelman, whose tango-meets-modern-dance works have often been featured on Ballet Argentino's programs, it zips through 25 numbers in an efficient and oddly impersonal manner. I waited in vain for some of the guts and grit I associate with the tango to emerge from the proceedings, but in her attempt to mix the tango with the ballet and modern dance vocabulary—and given dancers for whom classical ballet is the primary language—Stekelman keeps the flavor Tango Lite, while showcasing some considerable physical prowess, especially where Bocca is concerned.

The music, performed by the vibrant eight-member ensemble Octango, is wonderful, if you can get past the Joyce's harsh amplification. Ten of the numbers featured singers, either the over-emphatic Guillermo Fernandez, whose voice was inexcusably over-miked, or the divinely expressive Viviane Vigil, who caresses her lyrics and projects a subtle intensity that provided some of the evening's most authentic moments. The bulk of the non-vocal selections were by Astor Piazzolla, and included three fascinating examples from his series of "Estudios Tanguisticos, which have a starkly contemporary flavor and featured jagged, unpredictable ruminations for the flute. Also revelatory was his "Oblivion," during which first the bandoneon player (Pablo Mainetti) and then the saxophonist (Julian Vat) performed eloquent extended solos evoking an emotional range form anger to regret.

The program's intention is apparently to celebrate, and to immerse the audience in, the atmosphere and spirit of Buenos Aires (where Bocca's Ballet Argentino is based). Fernandez's lengthy opening solo, titled "My Beloved Buenos Aires," is addressed to the city as scenes of its streets, harbor, parks, stadium and populace are projected on the front curtain. A quick male duet, in which Bocca and Lucas Oliva wear elegant attire, starts off the dancing, but exudes none of the danger or sensuality that we might expect.

Bocca's second dance partner of the evening is a wooden table, over and around which he launches himself with sinuous control. He moves with coiled sensuality, testing himself in feats of balance (he launches into several handstands on the edge of the table) while also projecting an air of isolation and private fantasy. For those Bocca fans who did not catch his appearance in "Fosse" on Broadway, this and other numbers in "Boccatango" offer an opportunity to see him looking sleek and moving with stealthy intensity—and in several cases, baring his torso. His focus and commitment to his various assignments are admirable. He doesn't pander or preen, and maintains a seriousness of demeanor even when the material at times verges on cheap cliché.

The seven members of Ballet Argentino who joined Bocca danced with efficiency but little fire. They were adept at the various technical challenges that Stekelman tossed their way, ranging from fluid Kylianesque partnering to occasional swooping lifts to sharp, speedy pirouettes. Four of the men sometimes formed a tight ensemble, as a menacing, lurking presence behind Bocca and their tight, rhythmic momentum provided some of the more intriguing moments in an evening that did not avoid sinking into cliches. Late in the first act, Bocca and Cecilia Figaredo (his regular partner in most of his duets) found themselves topless, wearing only black briefs as golden hazy light tactfully bathed them and they came together for a supposedly sultry encounter. This kind of thing should be left to Pilobolus. Presumably Stekelman was trying to cover a lot of bases stylistically, relying on the propulsive tango music to unify her various forays, but it was hard to see what the (admittedly riveting) spectacle of Bocca hanging from, and maneuvering himself through, a tall stepladder as a dry-ice fog rolled beneath him had to do with Buenos Aires or the tango.

Originally published:
Volume 2, No. 30
August 9, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Susan Reiter


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last updated on Autust 9, 2004