By Hilary Ostlere
Anyone who thinks all tango shows look alike might be surprised by Estampas Porteñas, a Buenos Aires company whose artistic director, Caroline Soler, is a one-time ballet dancer. Although in some ways it follows the tried and tested format - nightclub or café setting, couples dancing intensely with occasional songs and orchestral interludes, their show at the Joyce is notably younger and freer in formula and has convincing ensemble work.
Gone are the elderly gentlemen with sleek hair expertly gliding their haughty partners around smoke-filled dives. No, although this café has tables that suggest a thé dansant, the men are casually dressed and have rumpled haircuts, and the women have ballet training to enhance their beauty-pageant bodies. Best of all, there's the wonderful Quatrotango (musical director Gabriel Clenar, piano; Hugo Satorre, bandoneón; Marcello Rebuffi, violin; Gerardo Scaglione, double bass) always present in the background, virtually supplying a show of their own.
The performance divides happily between dance and tango music recital, with singer Javier Di Ciriaco on hand to belt out the occasional love song. Even he fits into the youthful look with his casual suits and easy mike presence. The first half, entitled Milonga, consists mainly of couples dancing in ensemble or showing off their set pieces, which vary in style. Here Mariel Bobek's body-baring costumes take flight in fanciful straps and cutouts but the dancers are young and sexy enough to make them look right.
Four lead couples who have appeared together in other shows or exhibition dancing manage to spice up familiar moves. We repeatedly get the lunge into a deep knee bend, one leg thrust along the floor behind, then swept up into a high front kick; the tricky intertwining of legs as a couple volte-faces, swivelling in opposite directions; the glued-together glide and the deep back-bend. Added impetus comes in the form of acrobatic lifts and turns, the women whirled around held by one leg and arm, or tossed overhead, all the time looking like they're really enjoying it. Carolina Gianni and German Cornejo are outstanding in several numbers.
The true passion of the tango, though, pours out throbbingly in Quatrotango's rendition of Astor Piazzola's Adiós Nonino. That is only appropriate, for it was Piazzola's music that put Tango Argentino on the map years ago, and it hasn't been far away ever since.