Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Carlos Paredes & Diana Giraldo at @ Ukrainian Village Restaurant.

The furniture had been moved back and the carpet rolled up and away. The bare wood floor was tempting, teasing with the promise of many sweet tandas to come.
Off to one side was a gathering of guests fully engrossed in all and all was scrumptious, the food, the conversation, the music, the mood and the warmth of fine company. The pull of the dance floor was to be resisted for the moment but anticipation was building and its time would come.

Outside on the patio deck stood Midas applying her golden touch to the choicest cut from Apollos herd. I had twice experienced her nuggets of barbecued goodness: fillet Mignon, sausages, fowl and fruit and could hardly wait for the hat trick to complete.

I opened the screen door emerging out onto the deck intending to offer help. The springtime air spoke of summer and carried its weight. It bore the sharp glow of fading twilight, the scent of vital woods and the sounds of simultaneous relaxed conversations. There was the murmur from unseen friends around the bend to the front of the porch. There was the dialogue between the young green leaves and that oh so soothing evening breeze. Then there was the magical hiss from the radiant red coals which were arranged in the grill awaiting their charge.

Another conversation quite unexpectedly was about to start.

I walked towards the corner where Midas stood readying her tools of transmutation. The grill, the meat, the tongs and yes the trays ready to collect the result of her magic. Did she need a taster - I was tempted to ask.

He approached her directly, thoughtfully with an air of purpose of a man who had witnessed a grave injustice and was determined to set things right.
He spoke from a place of considerable experience and personal expertise. Some of his words were technical, practical matters pertaining to the mechanics of the grill and the impact and consequences of the distribution of the heat. Pure physics to me in a land of magic. Much of the rest was subjective, impassioned instruction and advice that would certainly significantly impact the texture and flavor of the resulting feast. Could too many good cooks compromise this pot?

Out of my depth I retreated to the shallows confident that Midas, would wear her crown and rule the day.

Form, function, technique, poetry, magic, enjoyment and the question of which way is correct. I am constantly reminded that this type of discussion is ever present in our local Argentine tango community. The ongoing dialogue over how the tango should be taught, practiced and danced. What constitutes the correct technique and execution given all of the practical, traditional or historic underpinnings and how much 'give' can be tolerated (condoned, allowed or even celebrated) in varying individual style, given a dancer's background and need for self expression. In other words when is the tango no longer Argentine Tango.

It so occurs to me that learning and dancing the tango can be likened to preparing and enjoying a steak, whether juicy and delectable or dry and austere, whether prepared by a professional chef or home styled from a favorite aunts recipe. In either case you start with the fundamentals (prime Argentine beef or the embrace and walk) accent it with your personal favorite seasonings (Salsa anyone) and prepare it to taste. You then serve it with an attitude and style befitting the occasion and your own personal background or cultural precepts (joyful swing, stylized ballroom, whooping square dance).

To some extent these choices are governed by conditioning and tastes instilled since childhood or reflecting other prior (to tango) cultural exposure and preferences. They are as much a part of the dancer as his/her verbal accent or walking gait and changing these characteristics are akin to changing personal heritage. For a non Argentine to dance like an portenio must be as hard and unnatural as learning and speaking a new language without your accent. It great for professionals and a good option for the rest but an accent identifies an individual and isn't variety the spice of life. Like the steak the end result is still identifiable as tango but the experience of consumption is as unique as is the consumer.

Looking around la pista it is pretty easy to spot the dancers with a basis in ballroom, latin, swing or something else. The movements inspired by their respective backgrounds are as natural to them and germane to their enjoying of their dance. It is similarly easy to distinguish those who are religiously intent on improving their skills, form and technique from those happily content to dance their dance or enjoy the companionship afforded by the social scene. There beauty of the whole thing is that there always seem to be room for all.

Over the years I have several respected visiting milongueros declare (and I paraphrase) that the tango should always be walked and with a serious face. I guess to them the tango is life and life is always serious. Others have stress that the embrace is paramount and should never be broken. One consequence the partners should always face each other. I have also heard a Great, world renowned, much loved, highly respected and venerable Milonguero (R.I.P) wisely declare that " all tango is real (authentic) as long as it is danced honestly "(with real feeling). That statement was in direct response to the derision of a group of professionals directed towards another partly on the basis of his happier approach to the dance. It must have made his night.

So just who is a guy to believe?.

The Tango danced by any skilled practitioner is indeedsomething to behold. Is it true that the Argentine Tango which took original form (was born) and continues to be nurtured in Argentina truly belongs to the world?. On the line connecting strictly respecting traditions and original context (much codified or stylized by now) and self expression where should the balancing point be placed? Does the Tango belong to Argentina anymore than soccer belongs to England or basketball to the U.S? Do heavily classically trained dancers or musicians diminish or dilute the music and the dance?

The social dancer dances who the are at the moment and for his/her our own purpose. It must be so for the experience to be real and meaningful. In any case, like the differently prepared steak, the result is still recognizable as tango but the individual flavor is indeed unique. Few non Argentine dancers can move in the way of a PorteƱo. Does this allow the dance to be truly international?, make it more accessible and strengthens its appeal?.

Much to their credit Argentine experts master a traditional form before incorporating non tango elements into their style(as they must do to maintain a reference standard). Take for instance Omar Vega. His traditional tango is steeped in authentic milonguero style (seeing him dance you have no doubt about his roots) but the style he developed by incorporating (within the structure of traditional tango) certain Afrocentric elements has enriched the tango immensely. The same can be said for Juan Carlos Copes, Guillermina Quiroga or the Brazilian Junior Cervila with their inclusion of ballet, modern dance and even elements from swing into their dance styles or choreography. Pugliese and Salgan borrowed from classical and jazz respectively. As one local teacher likes to ask, "Is it Evolution or Dilution?".

All this brings me to the subjects if this post.

I have never heard of or Seen Carlos Paredes or Diana Giraldo before stumbled onto their performances at the Ukrainian restaurant ( )and Stepping Out Dance Studios ( The All Night Milonga ) this spring. Those performances became sort of a benchmark in my mind. The couple hails from Columbia, long a second home of Argentine Tango. (It is not entirely unbefitting that Carlos Gardel gave his last performance in that country).
These incredibly talented and very generous performers (four songs performances) have created a signature style by informing a very solid tango technique with elements from a variety of dance types ranging from folk to formal international styles. The result is an astounding synergy of movement as astonishing to behold as it is immensely entertaining. There is that certain flair, over abundance of charisma and a sophistication of presentation that characteristics formal ballroom at its apogee. Add to that the turbocharged energy, pure exuberance and abundance of spirit characteristic of swing, plus a real world earthiness of a native or folk dance. Yet despite the infusion of these elements they dance an Argentine tango with a deep respect for the embrace and no compromising proper form.

This careful incorporation of various compatible dance elements within their Tango and their mastery of showmanship surely helped them earn the 2006 world Stage Title and I for one can barely wait to see them perform back here in New York (hopefully in the fall).

This was my first Friday visit to the Ukrainian restaurant in years. It was gratifying to see both Danny and Rosa successfully maintaining the warm and welcoming atmosphere that continues to attract generations of local and visiting dancers. An important aspect of the original spirit of 'La Belle Epoch' also continues forward even as the venue adapts to evolving mores of today's clients.

The purpose of my previous visit was to photograph Omar Vega as he lead a very well attended milonga class then later when he delighted the crowd with an exceptional improvised performance. Much history has been made in these two venues and Danny should be proud of his contribution to New York local tango lore. It is a venerable tradition that shows every sign of continuing.

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