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Pacific Northwest Ballet

Tango Tonight Program, featuring Stephen Baynes' El Tango, Nicolo Fonte's Almost Tango and Hans van Manen's Five Tangos

Mercer Arts Arena, Seattle

April 13, 2002
By
Azlan Ezaddin


When Pacific Northwest Balletís Tango Tonight program was first brought to my attention last year, my right eye brow immediately went up. It didnít lower even when I saw Hans Van Manenís name on the season announcement. Having seen a few too many confused tango-inspired ballets in the last couple seasons (for a jaded balletomane, thatís quite an accomplishment), I couldnít imagine sitting through one entire evening of tango only works. I say ďconfusedĒ because the language of ballet with its lines and airy beauty is so much at odds with the tightness and the conflict in tango Ė most choreographers are lost when combining the two.

However, as the date of the opening night approached, I became gradually curious. With two world premieres by relatively unknown choreographers (at least in the U.S.), I wondered if perhaps one of them might actually pull it off and create a successful ballet on tango. Then it was the turn of my left eyebrow to go up when I read that one of the works was to use no tango music at all. Now, this I have to see.

And see I did. Nicolo Fonteís Almost Tango is probably one of the most stylish works I have seen all season. Using relatively unknown music by Laurie Anderson, Karl Jenkins and Thomas Oboe Lee Ė of which only the Jenkins piece had allusions to tango, and even then in abstract form Ė Fonte has successfully incorporated the elements that inspire tango without borrowing from it. In a dance for ten men and four women (the men outnumber the women as they did in the tango halls in Argentina), Fonte explores the relationships and conflicts between men, between women, and between men and women that are prevalent in tango, without repeating himself.

The ballet begins with the men on stage dancing in unison and in various combinations, including some very exciting all-male pas de deux (men practiced the tango with each other in Argentina), in which both men are protagonists, each very much capable of lifting and throwing the other. The women are introduced one by one throughout the ballet in steamy vignettes that project both their sexuality and their physical tenacity. In addition to the choreography, the costumes, designed by Mark Zappone and Fonte himself, also enhance the dancersí sensuality. By his own admission, Fonteís style is to reveal as much of the dancersí bodies as possible without crossing the line of taste.

Almost Tango is so rich in movement and images Ė with so many dimensions to fill your senses Ė that it never leaves you dull. The dancing of course was absolutely tantalizing; I canít imagine many companies having the caliber to dance this work. My only complaint is the name of the ballet. This work isnít Almost Tango; itís beyond tango.

By contrast, the first work of the program, El Tango by Stephen Baynes, was everything I had expected in a tango-inspired ballet, down to the music by tango master Astor Piazzolla, the macho-leg-on-wooden-chair poses, and the I-detest-you-but-I-want-you steely gazes. Ten dancers paired off against each other in the familiar ritualism of touch-me-but-donít-touch-me and I-embrace-you-and-then-push-you-away steps symptomatic of most tango ballets, which in itself isnít necessarily a problem except that it gets repeated for each couple. Still, the dancing once again was superb and it is one of the better ballets of its style that I have seen.

Hans van Manenís Five Tangos is also a ballet that uses Piazzollaís music but does so more interestingly, by not being so literal to the score and by using a hierarchical structure of dancers, as opposed to the equal pairs in El Tango. There are interesting variations in this work with an emotional arc through the ballet. Ariana Lallone and especially Stanko Milov stand out as the lead principals.

In spite of the initial skepticism, I left the theater with both eyebrows down and my heart appeased. It seems I canít go wrong at PNB these days. Even when the choreography is mediocre, the dancers excel. When it is stellar however, as in Almost Tango and Five Tangos, they shine.

 

Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Marie.


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