Caught betwixt and between, Ana Maria Stekelman's "Tangokinesis" (both the company and the 16-part dance suite of that name) doesn't offer the kind of tango showcase in which seasoned couples explore their unique approaches to the idiom a la "Tango Argentino," nor does it marshal the imaginative resources for a fully transformed work of modern dance a la Paul Taylor's "Piazzolla Caldera."
Instead, Stekelman brought to the Alex Theatre on Saturday a diverting, uneven experiment in fusion, one that mined a narrow range of traditional steps, supplemented them with an equally limited slate of contemporary gymnastics and set the result to highly unusual taped accompaniments. Yes, you got to hear "La Cumparsita," but also some sacred Vivaldi, a little provocatively reedited Chopin and a series of startling "Tiros" by Edgardo Rudnitzky: gunfire resequenced as a rhythm track.
If this shotgun (or, rather, machine-gun) wedding between tango and modern dance played more impressively than its choreographic weaknesses might suggest, credit the exciting Argentine dancers, with Nora Robles and Pedro Calveyra able to freshen even farcical sight-gags about tango and then deliver a full load of gymnastic thrills. Most often paired with Cristina Cortes, the intense Marcelo Carte proved especially compelling in a competitive trio to the ballad "Fascination."
Stekelman's "Concierto Para Bongo" juxtaposed tango moves and mambo rhythms, using percussion music by Damaso Perez Prado to launch more displays of black-on-black costumes and ballroom maneuvers culminating in sudden-death backbends. Hadn't we seen it all in Act 1--maybe not at this speed, with one-armed lifts and other stunts added, but with the same gestural emotionalism grafted on, as if an afterthought? Yes, we had. Repeatedly.
Other dancers in the exemplary company included Maria Marta Colusi, Gerardo Carrot, Valencia Batiuk and Martin Rodriguez.
* "Tangokinesis" appears Friday at 8 p.m. in the Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. $30. (310) 456-4522. Also October 19 at 8 p.m. in Campbell Hall, UC Santa Barbara. $12-$22. (805) 893-3535.