Watching tango dancers Gisela Galeassi and Nikito Cornejo own the apron of the stage during the second half of m¡longa, the brain finds it difficult to process what the eyes are seeing. The pair seem to be one writhing, dark-toned dervish of jutting, sensual, passionate movement. Back and forth they go, he spinning her round his body like a silk scarf, fluid as mercury; her feet attacking the stage, staccato, kicking out, kicking down, so fast it really is the proverbial blur. Nigh on two hours of tango with a 20-minute interval might sound like too much, but with only the smallest of lulls in interest, this show grips, from start to finish.
Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s international breakthrough was his award-winning 2008 collaboration, Sutra, with the artist Anthony Gormley and the Shaolin monks. He has since become a leading choreographer, always willing to explore global influences and sources. He’s revelled in the Hispanic before on the flamenco-themed Dunas, with Spanish dancer María Pagés but m¡longa is as very different affair, unwrapping the Argentinian tango and opening it out to a kind of visual concept album, based around six couples, coming together and apart, in different moods, in what we may imagine to be a Buenos Aires cityscape of streets, cafés and nightclubs.
The bandoneon-led sound of tango is an easy delight
As well as dancers, m¡longa utilises film and visuals to potent effect. There is a wonderful scene where a dancer stands with his back to us manipulating a giant screen of photos via gesture, like Tom Cruise in the film Minority Report. And another where dancers rush about trying to keep up with landscapes speeding past behind them, like Hollywood actors at the dawn of cinema comedy. On one occasion these visuals precede the show’s most enjoyable moment of outright clowning, when brightly auburn-haired dancer Vivana D’Attoma plays a woozy drunk, trying to pull the suavely dismissive, evening wear-clad Gabriel Bordon. Her floppy moves, precisely estimated, are a well-portrayed twist on the rest.
Some set pieces are isolated moments, such as the somehow shocking dance wherein Esther Garabali and Martin Epherra act out, via tango of course, an explosive relationship, bordering on the violent, or a sequence where three male dancers perform a particularly frantic, energetic routine. Other themes, however, run throughout, interspersed with the rest of the action. Particularly notable is the relationship between the couple played by Silvina Cortés and Damien Fournier who, often surrounded by the ensemble as an intrusive hubbub of night world activity, find each other, have a one-night stand, go their separate ways, and, perhaps, find one another again.
There's a minimum of props – a flag, a few chairs – and music plays a key role. The bandoneon-led sound of tango is an easy delight anyway, and composer Szymon Brzóska’s interpretation of it via a five-piece musical group, stage right, is well-estimated, bursting with life where required but also dropping to loose downtempo arrangements suitable for the more interpretive modern dances. M¡longa is an eyeful, and holds the attention with vim, vitality and sheer hard-practiced skill.
Overleaf: Watch trailer for Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui m¡longa