“Gender enlightenment has not exactly reached the world of Tango Fire,” Lyndsey Winship wrote in the Evening Standard ahead of German Cornejo’s latest work, currently playing at the Peacock Theatre. From the outset you can see why that may be the prevailing opinion. “Knicker-revealing slits in the dancers’ glamorous dresses” hark back to a time when pimps and prostitutes would practice this seductive art form on the sordid streets of Buenos Aires. But put your 21st century goggles on and you will get an entirely different picture. This is about empowerment, and to borrow a quote from Ginger Rogers, the women “do everything the man does, only backwards and in high heels”.
Tango Fire is a dance form that offers some of the speediest footwork and tightest twirling in the business, and German – a tour de force in Tango Fire since 2006, winning the acclaimed Lucas Awards twice for his Tango productions in London in ’15 and ’16/17 – is well placed to ensure that not a beat is left untouched as dancers explosively take to the stage. The minimalistic set is well suited to complex dance routines, with the quartet of piano, accordion, violin and double bass offering step-by-step backing for the intensely poised dancers.
But that’s not to say the movements aren’t contrasted. At times it is intense, characterised by a pacey tempo and seductive movements, but at others it is relaxed, almost cheeky, in many ways embodying the spirit of Argentina by showcasing both the flare and the country’s warm, communal nature. The musicians are in most instances just as much the stars of the show as the dancers, and the audience interaction turns it into more of a social event.
The masculine and feminine roles are fascinating. Despite suggestions that men take the dominant role in the show they actually act like frames for their partners – allowing the women to become the spectacle. In no instance is this more evident than in Susu, where through a series presage lifts, floor spins and a whirlwind of fast feet the female dancer becomes like a cape that is attached to a masculine figurehead. Physicality, musicality and even hairography combine to make a physically daunting routine performed under the guise of cool, steely faced dancers.
A wonder to behold.