Sexy, Slithery, Suave


As long as passion and glamour are welcome in the theater, the title "Forever Tango" will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since 1990, the full-evening compendium of Argentine music and dance bearing that name has played periodic extended engagements on local stages and now returns as a Tony-nominated Broadway musical for a weeklong run in Costa Mesa, followed by two weeks in Westwood.

Created seven years after the international success of "Tango Argentino," the show repackages the same components without ever matching its predecessor's extraordinary depth. But in dramatizing the range of tango expression and, in particular, the intricacy of tango technique, it provides a spectacular alternative to simplistic stalk-and-dip media cliches and the no less tiresome formulas of Euro-American exhibition ballroom tango.

At its opening Tuesday in the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the show came closest to the latter style in the duets for Hugo Patyn and Carolina Garcia, duets so coldly aristocratic and even haughty that they become examples of dehumanized body sculpture--carefully calibrated alignments of limbs, perfectly timed steps and gestural unisons, polished and sometimes extravagantly fussy details. An imposing display with nobody home.

At the opposite extreme: the two-duet dance drama for Carlos Gavito and Marcela Duran, so intimate and psychological that you watched for behavioral clues more than for steps and saw the milestones of a deepening relationship defined through pure movement.

In contrast to their growing rapport, a sense of betrayal conditioned the dancing of Julio Balmaceda and Corina De La Rosa: some unspoken accusation that created a terrible tension between them. And when Jorge Torres and Karina Piazza danced to Astor Piazzolla's great "Libertango," the central issue became one of predatory sexuality: tango as a kind of date-rape drug.

There's more: high-flying gymnastic tango from Miriam Larici and Claudio Villagra; comic, shtick-driven tango from Marcelo and Veronica Bernadaz; plus a duet for Carlos Gomez and Alicia Monti so full of daring, unpredictable footwork and startling torso twists that it seemed to set a new standard of eccentric complexity.

Besides the dancing couples, "Forever Tango" boasted an excellent 11-member band led by Lisandro Adrover that reveled in the juicy showpiece opportunities of Piazzolla's "Adios Nonino" and especially Jacob Gade's "Jealousy," with Adrover soloing on bandoneon, Mario Araolaza on piano and Humberto Ridolfi on violin. But perhaps the most artfully blended and urgent playing came earlier, in Anibal Troilo's symphonic "Responso." Carlos Morel sang with more sweetness than intensity but perhaps true tango fire belongs only to those males with hair greased and shined to a blinding gloss.

Besides creating and directing the show, Luis Bravo designed lighting effects that reflected the gleam of all that grease into the far corners of the center and made every leg emerging from a slit-skirt seem individually spotlit. Costume designer Argemira Affonso kept those legs constantly on view but otherwise emphasized upscale elegance--with one exception: the silver lame sheath that made Larici look short and stubby, plus a matching headdress and necklace that evoked some extreme form of ancient Argentine bauble-torture.

"Forever Tango" continues its run on Broadway but the touring company currently includes six of the dancers who appeared in the New York run and were collectively nominated this year for the Tony Award in choreography. This interchange between Manhattan and the road may explain why nearly all the photos in the center program booklet are of dancers not in the cast here.

* "Forever Tango," today and Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $21-$52.50. (714) 556-ARTS.

Also Tuesday-July 12, Royce Hall, UCLA campus, Westwood. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays 2 and 7 p.m. $25-$50. (310) 825-2101.

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