BY APOLLINAIRE SCHERR
Special to Newsday
In the globe-trotting Buenos Aires show "Tango Fire," opening Tuesday at the Joyce Theater, couples take the classic tango lunge all the way to the floor. To draw her partner close, a dancer hooks a leg around his waist. And when the five sexy young pairs flick and swivel in tandem, they are as perfectly in sync as a ballet corps.
A daily ballet class accounts for the dancers' spectacular amplitude and precision. "They work the movements of the feet, the arms - from shoulder to fingertips - and the back just as a professional classical company would do," director-choreographer Carolina Soler explains through a translator. And she would know, having spent two decades as a soloist with the resident ballet company of Buenos Aires' resplendent opera house, Teatro Colón, before turning to tango in the mid-'90s.
But how to account for the trademark passion of Estampas Porteñas, her troupe? That is as basic to Argentine tango as the hook and the hug.
"You take away the foot hook and the hug," says Soler, "and you don't have tango. This is a dance where two people are very close and the steps, synchronized between them, are changing all the time. It's like one body, really. The couple separates for just a little while, then they're back together."
The dual body of the couple fights and reconciles simultaneously. In Argentine tango - "real tango," Soler calls it to distinguish it from the "Dancing With the Stars" variety - the upper bodies maintain a tight embrace while the feet snag and release their partner's in a slippery game of mutual seduction.
"The upper and lower halves are like two different languages speaking together," says Gabriel Clenar, whose impressive quartet - piano, violin, double bass and bandoneon - is joined onstage by handsome, warm-voiced singer Javier di Ciriaco.
"Tango is our mirror," Soler says.
Clenar elaborates: "Tango is not just dance, it's a whole culture."
"In the early 20th century, Buenos Aires was a city of immigrants," he explains. People lived in one place and missed another. "And that's where the tango is coming from. Of course, when you're working with a form that's a hundred years old, you can't feel the same as those who made it, because the context has changed. But the spirit remains in the dancing, the music and singing. And everyone can understand it because everyone has had something they've lost: homeland, childhood, love, illusion."
When "Tango Fire" toured Germany and England last year, audience members showed their approval by wildly stamping their feet. In Korea, they yelled and raised their arms. In China they didn't make much of a ruckus at the curtain calls, but afterward crowds gathered at the stage door for autographs.
All over the world, Clenar says, "people accept this strange message."