Carlos Gardel was one of tango’s — and Argentina’s — great heroes and superstars.
The French-Argentine singer, songwriter and composer wrote and recorded hundreds of classic tangos, many with his lyricist and longtime collaborator, Alfredo Le Pera. Dozens are considered standards in the genre today.
One of the most prominent figures in the history of tango, Gardel perished in a plane crash at the height of his career in 1935. He was 44.
The Argentine music and dance troupe Tango Buenos Aires will pay tribute to Gardel with four performances Nov. 18 and 19 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. All shows will take place in the stately Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
“Carlos Gardel is considered the King of Tango,” said Rosario Bauza, artistic director of Tango Buenos Aires. “He is responsible for hundreds of three-minute tangos that are still used today. ‘The Spirit of Argentina’ is dedicated to Carlos Gardel and what he means to us.”
“The Spirit of Argentina” is the name of the latest music and dance program created by Tango Buenos Aires, which has become known as one of Argentina’s great cultural exports. The troupe has been touring the United States for the past few months with its Gardel tribute show, which covers his early student days, his career as a composer and his unexpected and tragic death.
Tango Buenos Aires has performed at the Segerstrom Center three times before — in November 2007, presenting “The Four Seasons”; in January 2011, with “Fire and Passion of Tango,” and again in January 2015, dancing to “Song of Eva Perón.”
“We are so pleased to be at Segerstrom Hall once again,” said Bauza, who founded Tango Buenos Aires in 1996. “Always the people make us feel so welcome with their attendance and reactions. You will see many costume changes, beautiful choreography and lighting. We have acrobatic dancers, very elegant dancers, very passionate dancers, really dancers that highlight all age groups for tango.”
The Argentine tango is a world-famous genre of dance and music. Its roots stretch to Africa and Spain, as well as the Argentine milonga, which was sung by gauchos, or Argentine cowboys.
The melodies are often winding and hypnotic, yet frequently punctuated by staccato notes. The dominant instrument in tango is the bandoneón, or box-shaped accordion. The dance is sensual and dramatic, and has been described as “the vertical expression of a horizontal desire,” according to “The Rough Guide to World Music.”
“The Spirit of Argentina” program will explore Gardel and his early years, his passions, including soccer and boxing, his time in Paris and his music on Broadway. The show will draw heavily on Gardel’s work, as well as Astor Piazzolla, that other legend in Argentine tango music.
“Growing up in Argentina I have always been around tango,” Bauza said. “It is our culture. I do not dance myself, but I have an advanced knowledge of how to direct and create wonderful shows as this one.”
About tango’s significance to her native Argentina, Bauza commented: “I think it helped us through very tough times in the past. Tango represents the heart and soul of the people of Argentina.”
The Segerstrom program is part of “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” an ambitious and extensive exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.
The Getty-sponsored initiative started in September and continues through January 2018 at more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California.
Also in conjunction with Tango Buenos Aires’ appearance in Costa Mesa, Segerstrom Center is presenting free tango lessons on Nov. 14 and 16 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Argyros Public Plaza.
Award-winning Argentine tango champion Marcelo Rivero will teach the techniques and movements of the dance. All levels of experience (including none) are welcome.
In addition, Segerstrom Center is hosting a free Tango Party on the Plaza on Nov. 18 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., just before the 8 p.m. performance by Tango Buenos Aires.
Bauza pointed out that tango courses through the blood of Argentinians, no matter where they live. The weekend performances should be a special celebration for the Argentine community living in Southern California.
“‘The Spirit of Argentina’ will give a chance for all people of Argentine heritage to enjoy a great performance of tango and perhaps relive some good childhood memories,” Bauza said. “It’s a time to celebrate our heritage as Argentinians with tango. I hope my fellow Argentinians will come to see ‘The Spirit of Argentina.’ ”
If You Go
What: Tango Buenos Aires, “The Spirit of Argentina”
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 18, 2 and 7 p.m. Nov. 19
Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: Tickets start at $39
Information: 714-556-2787 or scfta.org.
Richard Chang is a contributor to Times Community News.