Real tango, the kind you find on the streets and stages of Buenos Aires, is electrifying. It is sex and passion and intricate footwork.
It causes thrilled audience members to gasp in their seats. It cannot be faked and it cannot be compromised.
Tango dancers breathe this music their whole lives, the suave and dramatic movements are not separate from their identities — or so they make it seem.
Unfortunately, Saturday’s tango-infused performance by the Charleston Ballet Theater left this enthusiast unconvinced. Perhaps I held my expectations too high, or perhaps the dancers didn’t do their homework. Either way, I barely caught glimpses of dancers even dabbling in tango.
It wasn’t the choreography (by CBT’s Jill Eathorne Bahr) that disappointed; a favorite, recurring lift was a creative spin on the traditionally deep lunge of the female tango dancer: suggestively arched back, one knee bent forward, the other leg extended far behind her with pointed toe, her thigh nearly touching the ground. This pose was used repeatedly: Sexy drags became sweeping partner lifts and blink-and-you-miss-it spins.
But the footwork never breached the intricacy that defines tango.
It began with a smoldering, red-lit stage dotted with lithe bodies and intense, dramatic head snaps. The opening piece, “Tango Libre,” moved a lot — which I liked a lot — until the oh-so-popular love triangle unfolded, at which point I witnessed a lovers tug-of-war that lacked the necessary ardor.
The female lead, Jessica Roan, was torn between a debonair Dick Tracy-type, Michael Fothergill, and the fiery, devilish Roy Wei Meng Gan. The males had very strong and distinct dance styles, with Fothergill exuding elegance and beautiful ballet style and Gan presenting a fierce force to be reckoned with.
Roan, however, lagged a bit behind, heavy on her feet and stuck in the role of prima ballerina amid a tango frenzy of machismo. Her gorgeous leg extensions are worth mentioning, especially when she was held upside down, legs split, and carried across stage. The chemistry soared in “Tango in D” when she and Fothergill worked through elaborate arm entanglements that were cleverly crafted into the piece with hints of Latin flair.
A quick men’s quartet called “Suite Punte del Este” featured the beautiful form and technique that defines CBT, with jumps that allowed dancers to embrace their natural ballet tendencies. As it was, most of the cast seemed to fight against them.
The surprise head-turners were Miki Kawamura and Jonathan Tabbert in a duet titled “Crowdambo.” Taking playful heat to a new level, these two embodied sex and tension in a way seemingly unattainable to the rest of the cast, constantly touching then teasingly pulling away like new lovers, yet executing every step (even a tried-and-true fish roll) with the precision and conviction I had been awaiting. It left me giddy with pleasure. I also enjoyed “Felicia,” featuring two couples with plenty of cutesy upsidedown lifts and those great drags I mentioned before arranged playfully.
CBT uses its talents and ballet technique well, but given the opportunity to stretch into a new hybrid dance genre, it didn’t stretch enough.
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