The tango began in the brutal brothels of Argentina, was transformed in the elegant ballrooms of Europe, and seems to have changed once again, into a Las Vegas-like act suitable for television. This has its pluses and minuses for “Forever Tango,” the two-hour entertainment that Luis Bravo first put together nearly two decades ago. It is opening for the third time on Broadway at the Walter Kerr, where it is scheduled to run through September 15.
Sixteen world-class tango dancers perform to music played by 11 members of the Tango Forever Orchestra, which features four white-haired accordion players.(It’s not really an accordion; it’s an accordion-like musical instrument created for the tango called a bandoneon.) Some of the dancers are sensuous, some more athletic. All are poised, the men as stiff-backed as matadors, the women chic and unflappable as they exchange intricate, rapid-fire kicks with their partners Until August 11, two of those 16 dancers will be Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, stars of “Dancing With the Stars.” They are familiar faces – and bodies – on television.
Here are two recent appearances:
on Good Morning America
on The View
(First half of both videos are interviews; second half they dance)
In these dances of two or three minutes, they are personable, sensuous, strenuous, daring and smooth. Whether one is already a fan or just curious, what’s not to like? They are just as exciting on the stage — and, perhaps equally important, there is a palpable sense of thrill in the audience when Smirnoff and Chmerkovskiy first come out.
Audiences at the Walter Kerr, though, are sitting for two hours and ten minutes (albeit including an intermission) through one of these dances after another, without a discernible story to most of the dances, nor any arc to the show as a whole. Bravo is listed as the creator and director of the show, but the choreography is by “the dancers.” There seems no central vision towards which the physical movement builds theatrically. Ask regular theatergoers for the best dancing on Broadway ever, and they invariably pick dance numbers that are part of a show that tells a story.
The “Forever Tango” website offers history that is fascinating – for example, some say the word tango comes from the Latin word “tangere,” which means to touch; others say that it comes from “tan-go” the name the African slaves in Argentina gave to the drum they played. But there is no such context on stage or in the program; if you’re not already an aficionado, you’re on your own.
It would be unfair to say that all the dance numbers start to seem the same. It is more accurate to say that a few stand out.
Natalia Turelli and especially her partner Ariel Manzanares offer a comic flair in their dancing that makes one realize how essentially humorless the rest of the presentation. In the penultimate number of the show, entitled “Romance del Bandoneon y la Noche,” Juan Paolo Horvath throws Virginia Galoto around his own body and around the stage like a ragdoll – a really classy ragdoll – in a display of circus-level acrobatics.
As a part of, but also apart from, the dancing, Gilberto Santa Rosa, the Puerto Rican bandleader and Sinatra-quality singer known as “El Caballero de la Salsa”, croons Spanish-language songs, usually well-integrated with the dancing and occasionally a welcome distraction from them. (He is scheduled only through July 28.) When he’s on stage, “Forever Tango” feels like a concert. When he’s not, it can sometimes feel as if you’re visiting a ballroom or a dance class – a really intimidating one.
While seeing something live is almost always a more rewarding experience than on a screen, there is an ingredient in the TV series about dance that helps make them so popular. Maybe the theatergoers at the Walter Kerr should vote at the end for their favorite couple.
Walter Kerr Theater
Created and directed by Luis Bravo
Choreographed by the dancers
Costume design by Argemira Affonso, sound design by Rolando Obregon, make up design by Jean Luc Don Vito
“Special Guest stars”: Gilberto Santa Rosa, Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Dancers: Victoria Galoto and Juan Paulo Horvath, Marcela Duran and Gaspar Godoy, Zumo Leguizamon and Belen Bartolome, Florenica Blanco and Hernan Lazart, Natalia Turelli and Ariel Manzanares, Diego Ortego and Aldana Silveyra, Sebastian Ripoll and Mariana Bojanich, Soledad Buss and Cesar Peral
Forever Tango is scheduled to run through September 15.