Tango in the Clutches of Buenos Aires

Sunday, December 16, 2007

CAROLINA SOLER describes tango as a mirror of “the seduction, sadness, passion, strength and weakness of Buenos Aires.” Youthful exuberance also counts for a lot, as her company, Estampas Porteñas, made clear in the fall of 2006, when it made its New York debut at Town Hall.

Unlike many tango groups that pass through New York, the charming Estampas Porteñas (the words mean, roughly, stamp or mark and people born in Buenos Aires) is a tightknit company that never sacrifices spontaneity or Ms. Soler’s sprightly sense of theater for a star turn.

This vivacious troupe of dancers and musicians in their 20s and 30s, formed in 1996, returns to New York on Tuesday for three weeks at the Joyce Theater with “Tango Fire,” a revamped version of the Town Hall show. Ms. Soler briskly presents five tango styles, from the milonga, full of fast steps, to contemporary tango, which incorporates acrobatic lifts and daring leaps. Once again the 10 dancers are joined by Quatrotango, a quartet led by the boyish pianist and musical director Gabriel Clenar, whom Ms. Soler discovered when he was performing in a nightclub in Buenos Aires.

“It’s very exciting to work with a dance company,” Mr. Clenar said by phone from Buenos Aires. “As an arranger of both dance music and instrumental numbers, you have to work very differently from one piece to the next. We spend the entire performance onstage. It’s a little hard for us, but we say that it’s like being in the ‘pole position,’ in a way. The racing people say that,” he explained, referring to the favored position in auto racing. “It’s good to be there.”

Ms. Soler, a former ballet dancer, began training at 6 at the Lima Municipal Ballet in Peru. In 1977 she joined the resident ballet company of the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, where she performed until 2000, dancing in classical story ballets as well as neo-classical works by George Balanchine, whom she deeply admires.

“Patricia Neary staged ‘The Four Temperaments’ and ‘Serenade’ at the Colón Theater, and it was the most wonderful experience to dance these ballets,” she said in an e-mail message. “I did not do a lot, but the style was one of my favorites.”

Tango, she realized, was a way to extend her dancing career, and she began taking tango classes with Rodolfo Dinzel, who performed in the popular “Tango Argentino.” “Tango captivated me in the most incredible way, despite it being completely different from ballet,” she wrote. “In tango you dance with a partner, and you are held and led by the other person. It is full of feeling, and with this intense emotion you follow the music. Tango took me into its core. It made me feel the chemistry one can have dancing with another person.”

Though Ms. Soler, 50, gave her final tango performance in 2003, she has not abandoned the rigor of classical ballet. “When I choose a couple to be in the company, I look for people with a sense of ballet aesthetics,” she wrote. “I try to impose the same disciplines of work as with any professional dance company. We work on developing the best way to move all parts of the body, including the arms, hands and fingers. I hate feet on the inside of the partners’ bodies to be twisted or poorly placed. You mustn’t forget the hands and fingers. Each part of the body conveys sensuality; it is even more accentuated when two people are so close to each other.”

“Tango Fire,” which is touring the United States until February, also features a whirlwind of costume changes — 70 in all — designed by Mariel Bobek, who also dances the tango in her spare time. “Every costume has to invite the movement of the dancers,” Ms. Bobek said in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires. “And it’s also important to me that the dancers are young, because they dance the tango today. The clothes must be fresh. So I see the story of the costumes as being sexy, but not common. They can’t disturb the steps and the freedom of the dancer.”

Perhaps anticipating the many hours of mending that await her when Estampas Porteñas returns to Buenos Aires, Ms. Bobek sighed. “The costumes suffer damages,” she added. “They dance hard.”


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