The vice that became a dance phenomenon


Aside from acting, actor Robert Duvall’s grand passion is tango dancing. He combined those two loves in the “Assassination Tango” movie (2002), playing a hit man in Buenos Aires. Quite the expert tango dancer, Duvall once remarked that it takes 15 minutes to learn a tango pattern, and 15 years to learn how to dance.

Ever since “Tango Argentino” took Broadway by storm in 1985, contemporary American audiences have shown a healthy appetite for tango stage shows. The dance traffics in deep emotions, just as the music — as epitomized by that of composer Astor Piazolla — speaks of passionate obsessions, physical grace, mortality, dark emotions, power relationships and barely controlled violence.

Tango incubated in Argentine brothels a century ago, and the dance’s origins in dens of vice and violence made refined Argentines turn up their noses. But the world has embraced tango, whose most accomplished practitioners can create dramatic narrative on a ballroom floor.

That’s what “Tango Nuevo Cabaret” will present Saturday at Glendale’s Alex Theatre. Producer Sergei Tumas has assembled an international cast that includes accomplished dancers and bandoneon legend Daniel Binelli in a tribute to the father of modern tango music, Astor Piazolla (1921-92).

Tumas has spent his life in dance, studying as a child in his native Armenia and then in Moscow. He moved to the United States in 1990, discovered tango and his life changed. “I went to see the ‘Argentine Tango’ show,” he says from his Los Angeles home, “and it was so exciting. I met the artists backstage and they invited me to a rehearsal.” He plunged into tango study, eventually moving to Buenos Aires and partnering with the famous Argentine dancer Guillermina Quiroga.

Tumas, known for as the resident tango choreographer to the “Dancing With the Stars” TV show, produced his first tango show in 2005 to rave reviews. He has since presented shows all over the world. Tumes is particularly proud of his orchestra, led by jazz bassist Miles Mosely. “Miles has brought some of today’s best young jazz musicians into the band,” he notes with pride, “like saxophonist Kamasi Washington.”

In what was probably his only SoCal appearance ever, Piazolla’s New Tango Sextet played Royce Hall in 1989. The maestro of bandoneon (the melancholy brother of the accordion) led his crack ensemble in a recital that was full of tension and drama. The music careened from crashing crescendos to tension-filled linearity, executed in razor-sharp articulation.

“Tango is a universal language and a universal music,” Tumas holds. “Piazolla studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and collaborated with composer Bela Bartok. He brought tango to the rest of the world; now it’s global music.”

Argentine composer and bandoneon player Binelli, widely held as Piazolla’s musical heir, has written for symphony orchestra and smaller ensembles. He played with Piazolla for many years, and their compositions share sharp-angle chords, soulful interludes and jarring dissonances. It’s quite the coup for Tumes to have him as part of Tango Nuevo Cabaret.

Former Intel vice president Larry Fox took up ballroom dancing after he retired some years ago. He and his wife Judy have spent a lot of time dancing tango. “There are at least two kinds of tango,” he says from his home in Aloha, Oregon. “American tango is very fast and showy, with scissoring legs and gymnastic flourishes. But Argentine tango is actually very slow — with lots sensual movement, leg rubbing and roaming hands. Both require a major dose of attitude; that’s what shapes the way you move. Without that you’re just doing steps.”

Expect major attitude — in the music and the dance — Saturday at the Alex.


KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.


What: Tango Nuevo Cabaret

Where: Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: Saturday, Feb 7, 8 p.m.

More info: (818) 243-2539,