Charismatic & confident Che Malambo conquers the stage

Che Malambo. Photo: Diane Smithers

The air cackled with electricity, excitement churned in the air and audience goers twittered with giggles and barks of laughter, and that was only 10% due to the wine and beer flowing at the beautiful grounds of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center; the other 90% was in anticipation of the performance of Che Malambo that was about to begin.

Since their premiere in Paris in 2007, Che Malambo has been taking the world by storm, touring internationally, and arriving in the US for a limited tour this summer.

Saratoga, with its rich history in horse racing, was the perfect venue for this dance, traditionally performed by gauchos, South American cowboys, sparring in contests of agility and speed through galloping fast zapateo (footwork), and the whip fast tangle of the boleadoras (rope with stones attached at the end).

As a dancer with a background in flamenco, I was curious to see what, if any, similarities the two techniques shared. I found several parallels between the two arts: malambo belongs to the outcasts and wanderers of the Pampas region of Argentina, much like flamenco belongs to the gypsies of Spain.

Rhythm is essential to both dance forms, and like flamenco dancers, I found the malambo dancers fully present, emotive, and passionate. Seemingly joint less, the dancers move in a frenzy of purposeful speed with their feet, calling to one another to take the movement, own it, and conquer it, as one might a wild horse.

Note to all dancers: taking your time is sexy

The dancers of Che Malambo stir and summon a primal part in each of us that recognizes the isolation of a vast landscape, the joy of connection, and the absolute need for expression.

Director and Choreographer Gilles Brinas’ background in ballet was clear on the stage, wisps of rond de jambe and clear lines among the aggressive power of these men gave yin and yang to the performance. Brinas masterfully used space, mood, and timing – the performance flowed scenically and rhythmically, keeping the audience rapt.

Che Malambo anticipated every wish I had; the beginning of the performance was bold and assertive, it told me what to expect and what this dance form was all about. The dancers challenged each other with rapid-fire footwork, proud chests, and stallion-like grace.

Just when I was craving fluidity and release, the second half of the show opened with humour and wit, parodies of the Sharks and the Jets, Justin Bieber, and A Chorus Line. Singing and the guitar soothed the testosterone fuelled atmosphere, and numbers where the performers danced barefoot allowed the audience to see them with less of their armour on, providing a wonderful balance.

For as much as these men are embodied with the rhythms of their dancing (the bombos drums seem more an extension of their bodies rather than an accessory to it) they’re not afraid of silence, which only adds to the sensuality of their movement. Note to all dancers, ever: taking your time is sexy.

Sexy in fact, is the perfect takeaway from Che Malambo. Not necessarily in the sexual sense of the word (although the dancers were indeed sexy), but in the sense of all consuming confidence; moving through space and time with ease in one’s body and self.

If these dancers could teach us one thing, I imagine that might be it: move through the world as if it is yours alone, face it head on, and hear your audience roar with delight.

Reviewed by Katrena Cohea at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on 20 July.