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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Fermín (a real tango movie) - revisited

Oliver Kolker's experience of tango in the United States (2005) provided the stimulus for the film Fermín. As a dancer of tango and actor, raised in Buenos Aires, Kolker was puzzled that at the time, North Americans loved the dance, but didn't appear to like the rich, traditional music of tango. Because of their limited exposure to the music of the Golden Age, he speculated that it hadn't reached their hearts and souls.

Such was the beginning of a chain of events which led to the genesis of this captivating film - his remarkable script and directorial debut, where the central character, deeply troubled by his past, expresses himself only in lyrics of tango. Here's a revealing chat with Kolker, for those who understand Spanish.

The movie Fermín was released last year, and we were very fortunate to see it when it screened in Buenos Aires.  It had lost none of its impact when we saw it for a second time (with sub-titles, this time), as part of the wonderful Tango in the Spring event  in Canberra. Although deeply moving the first time, seeing it with sub-titles revealed so much more of its depth.

Surprisingly, getting hold of the DVD while in Buenos Aires this year proved to be difficult. None of the normal retailers had it in stock, and some had not even heard of it! However, an internet search revealed that the DVD can be purchased online.

Calling the company, who should reply? None other than Oliver Kolker himself (Fermín's writer and co-director, as well as the actor who played a key role at the beginning)! Later, when the door at the company's address was opened to us, we appeared to be faced with the young Ciempies (the character played by Kolker in the movie - so called, because of his fast footwork on the dance-floor).

If you haven't yet had a chance to view this gem of a movie, or would like to see it again, here's a chance to get your own copy with sub-titles in English, French Russian and Turkish.

When visiting Buenos Aires, don't miss the atmospheric Bar Los Laureles which featured in the movie.  Here's a photograph taken while we were enjoying live music, dinner and later, dancing, at Los Laureles.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Ebb and flow in Buenos Aires milongas

Do you arrive at a milonga with high expectations?  Who will be there, the quality of the music, the venue, the amount of dancing you will enjoy, etc.   Will everything just be as it was before?

One of life’s lessons is that high expectations can lead to disappointment.  On the other side of the coin, it is good to be open to pleasant surprises. 

Things change - nowhere more so, than the milongas of economically-challenged Buenos Aires:

Last year, Milonga de los Consagrados (Saturday) was not hugely popular.  Probably, it was a financial struggle for the organisers.  Recently, I was told that they had had to quickly replace their regular DJ who had called in sick one Saturday.  Dany Borelli (one of the best!!) stepped in the breach.  Apparently the response was so overwhelmingly positive, that Dany now has the gig.  Attendance has probably doubled due to his excellent music. Venue is lovely.  Level of dancing and navigation: average.

Lujos on Thursday at the intimate El Beso venue continues to be a personal favourite, where the music is very good, the level of dancing high, and I can usually count on several of my favourite dance partners attending.  Yet, as they say, timing is everything!  Last Thursday, a critical football match between arch-rivals Boca & River put a spanner in the works.  Attendance was down.  Fortunately, however, there were enough playmates in the sand-pit.  Let’s see what happens this Thursday when Boca and River have their re-match.

Lucy and Dany’s El Maipu on Monday is also a long-standing favourite for the same reasons as Lujos.  Lucy and Dany create such a warm and welcoming environment.  Despite the crowded dance-floor, people are very considerate, and collisions are a rarity.  Yet, even there, things have changed.  Although, there are new faces, numerous familiar faces are absent.  Is it due to increasing entry costs?  Maybe that’s why some of my regular partners now dance less often – some only once a week.   El Maipu on Wednesday is a fairly recent, brave and very good addition to BsAs milonga options.  However, at this early stage in its life, it’s struggling to get enough dancers to guarantee its future.  

Friday night at Obelisco Tango has changed a lot.  Last year, the floor surface was dodgy and the lighting made the cabeceo difficult.  But a couple of locals recommended it this year.  Sure enough, the floor has been replaced and lighting improved.  Great music is provided by DJs Vivi La Falce and Dany Borelli. Numerous dancers I know and like are regulars. 

So, what’s the take-home message from all of this?  Things change constantly here, for a host of reasons.  If you come to the Mecca of Tango, do your milonga research.  And when you choose a milonga, go without rigid expectations.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Eye spy

The tanda has started, and couples are already on the floor, blocking lines of sight for an effective cabeceo. That’s one of the challenges in a busy milonga, when you wait for the music to start before deciding who you’d like to dance it with, or even whether to dance at all.

Now, a small window of opportunity has been created, and I can see the woman I want to dance with. Did I detect interested eye-contact? Was that a small inclination of her head in acknowledgement? Too late to be certain, because the gap has quickly closed again. Better keep my eyes in that direction to see if she’s doing the same, poised, ready to confirm an agreement to dance …… or maybe she’ll be looking elsewhere now. The gap has opened again. She is still looking for me. We both nod decisively and smile. The dance is ON! ……. and we have yet to meet for the first time.

Try this in a crowded supermarket, a theatre foyer, or a school parents’ meeting, and it’d be seen as inappropriate flirting - you’d soon be put in your place. However, the accepted codes of behaviour at an Argentine tango milonga work within a different set of parameters. Not only is this behaviour O.K., but it is seen as THE respectful way to arrange a dance partner for the next 12 minutes. It’s all about context!

What a pity that so many tango communities outside Buenos Aires adhere to the view that the cabeceo is too hard, and direct approaches are expected. Tricky it may be at times, but unachievable it isn’t. It just takes persistence, modelling, and a bit of self-confidence – that’s what it took for the cabeceo to become the norm at our milongas.

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