Two to tango

Ballet is an art filled with moments, moments which stand in for emotions, and Degas captured many such moments in his paintings. A pity we cannot do the same with music, fixing its precepts in time for generations of art creators and their audiences. It would then carry deeper meanings in a less transient way. Then again, part of the magic of music is precisely its transience.

Published in Al Ahram Weekly

Iñaki Urlezaga started his dance lessons at the age of eight and today he is one of the brightest stars on Argentinian ballet scene and possibly one of the most accomplished dancers in the international arena. A visit to his web site reveals a huge repertoire: Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Spartacus, Giselle, Anastasia, Eugene Onegin, to name but a few. As a principal dancer, he also took part in an equally large number of international festivals and galas held in Europe, Asia, Latin America, North America etc. Between 1995 and 2005, Urlezaga was Principal Dancer at the Royal Ballet of London, and later on he joined the Dutch National Ballet as Principal Guest Artist.

No need to go on counting the accomplishments and successes of Iñaki Urlezaga; they are listed in numerous sources and include work in the most renowned ballet groups and on the most celebrated world stages. Understandably his biography is studded with a good number international prizes and awards.

So the creation of his own dance company, called Ballet Concierto, is not only expected but also a natural step in the artistic growth of Urlezaga. “Since its foundation the Argentinean Company let Iñaki Urlezaga fulfill one of his wishes, take his dance and talent together with his dancers all over Argentina and the world,” we read at the Urlezaga web site.

The Iñaki Urlezaga Ballet Concierto gave their performance at the Cairo Opera House Main Hall on 6-9 March, and then at the Alexandria Opera House on 11-12 March. The programme they presented to the Egyptian audience included Paquita, originally a ballet to the music of Edouard Delvedez, revived in 1881 by Marius Petipa, the French- Russian choreographer considered a “father of classical ballet.” Petipa modified the ballet adding to it some pieces composed especially for the purpose by Ludwig Minkus: “Pas de trois” (a.k.a. the “Minkus Pas de trois” or “Paquita Pas de trois”), the “Paquita Grand pas classique” and the “Mazurka des enfants” (“Children’s mazurka”). It is interesting how over the decades, the original full- length Paquita ballet was modified to become almost a new work incorporating music by Delvedez and Minkus together with a fifth variation in the “Pas de Trois” (known as the “Male Variation”) with music by Adolphe Adam, from La Diable a quatre.

Today the new Paquita has become a ballet in its own right, no longer attached to its primary creator. This cheerful collection of dances is a refreshing treat for both dancers and audiences. Many choreographic elements suggested by Petipa seem extremely simplistic and for that reason they are used in various ballet exercises. Basic movements may seem as if taken from a classroom. However, once we see the Paquita ‘s simplicity as an art form, its value is immediately apparent.

Iñaki Urlezaga Ballet Concierto dancers are perfectionists, with their group dances neatly designed and executed. Jumps and stretches were clear and a delight to watch. Grand jeté jumps (“a long horizontal jump, starting from one leg and landing on the other”), especially when performed by Iñaki as soloist or with Eliana Figueroa, were high and effortless, underlining dancers’ perfect control.

The first half of the evening and the Paquita as danced by the Ballet Concierto bore ample testimony to the dancers’ precision and soloists’ artistic superiority. The second half of the evening consisted of tango performed to music by the Argentine composer and bandoneón player Astor Piazzolla and based on choreography by Mora Godoy. Piazzolla revolutionized tango, creating a new style called Nuevo Tango, which incorporates jazz with classical elements.

In a sense, tango imitates the movements of untamed cats. Its major characteristic is the contrast between sharp and soft movements and unexpected turns of the body. The atmosphere is full of anxiety, while the dancing pair radiates energy, building up dramatic tension on the one hand and flirtatious vibes on the other. Tango is about humans, about conflicts, about eternal contrasts and unresolved emotions. In context, tango becomes a school of life and a study of emotions. Tango brings people together so close that their flesh becomes one. When music flows through the dancers’ bodies, for a moment they become, themselves, tango.

Many film and theatre directors include tango in their works as its intense melancholy and passion are among the best media to express the most poignant human emotions. This is the tango we know starting from the famous scene in the 1921 movie The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse danced by Rudolph Valentino and Beatrice

Dominguez to the music of La Cumparsita (by Gerardo Matos Rodr’guez, an Uruguayan musician), through Bertolucci’s 1972 Last Tango in Paris with the tango scene danced by Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider (music composed by Gato Barbieri) to Al Pacino dancing tango with Chris O’Donnell in 1992 movie Scent Of A Woman (“Por Una Cabeza,” a popular Spanish tango composed by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera).

Mora Godoy, whose choreography was followed by the Ballet Concierto company, is a contemporary Argentine classical ballerina and choreographer, a graduate of the Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

Godoy combined years of extensive ballet education with a passion for tango, creating her own style of the dance. Godoy developed what she calls a “ballet tango”, a new version of tango in which she uses the classical ballet frames and body flexibility to support sophisticated and almost theatrical expressions in which the fervour of tango, its sharp and strongly emotional contrasts, are faithfully respected. However there is a thin line between Godoy’s concept of tango and other, even more balletised interpretations. When the line is crossed, the dancers might fall into a trap of presenting a classical ballet rather than “ballet tango”.

Iñaki Urlezaga Ballet Concierto company based its work on Godoy’s choreography to the music of Astor Piazzolla. Yet their ballet skills have overshadowed many contrasts and emotions usually known to tango. Set in parameters mostly restricted to ballet, the sharp edges, rhythms and dynamism of Piazzolla’s music was met with the delicacy of the ballet dancers.

When a ballerina in a blue dress faces the audience in her grand jeté jump, with pointed feet in classical ballet shoes, we can’t but recall Degas paintings picturing the classical music repertoire. He would also have captured the very same moments when watching the Ballet Concierto’s interpretation of tango. Even though the performance did not lack some remarkable pas de deux and impressive jumps which are definitely Iñaki’s hallmark, the whole dramatic material provided by the ballet company did not fully reflect tango concepts turning the second part of the performance into a somehow pleasant but not a particularly moving experience.

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