M¡longa – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui : “a formidable achievement in a spectacular show”

Milonga- Silvina Cortes & Damien Fournier

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s m¡longa bills itself and delivers as “tango for the 21st century.” And in the present, where humans are simultaneously over-stimulated and desensitised on a daily basis, enchanting attendees for 90 minutes straight is a formidable achievement.

During the smouldering programme, women are literally swept off their feet to live music as suave as James Bond. Maricel Giacomini and partner Bruno Gibertoni open the show by melting into lunges and crisply hooking legs. They skim across the stage like water bugs. And suddenly, a flurry of interactions, not unfamiliar to musical theatregoers, supersedes the couple’s intimacy. Movement bursts across the stage and echoes in variations, blooming throughout the group.

The tangueros’ bodies speak clearly and elegantly. Legs rear behind the dancers in back attitude; spines arch in surrender. Whipping chaines turns propel female dancers across the stage, where they lift their powerful, goddess-like legs straight up towards the heavens. Even a grounded bend of the knees scintillates.

m¡longa explores the diversification of tango as an expressive art form. A physical conversation sours into a power struggle as the word “celosa” (Spanish for ‘jealous’) rings over inarticulate murmurs. A trio of men display their strength and speed in choreography that is refreshingly not based upon a duel. And a light-hearted duet featuring Vivana D’attoma’s vibrant red curls and hilarious facial expressions could not have been more engrossing – even if Lucille Ball were to take stage.

In between video scenes offering a whirlwind tour of Buenos Aires, modern dancer Silvina Cortés changes the pace with a self-indulgent, yet self-loathing solo. Joined by partner Damien Fournier, the duet careens into a satisfying loop of freewheeling motion. The complex floor patterns are reminiscent of Argentine tango’s swirling dynamic. However, only later do the tangueros positively acknowledge their dancing before all join the counter-clockwise line of dance for milonga.

During the final scene, the cast intertwines arms with their partners as they step around stage, instead of traditionally tangling their legs. Although seemingly a superficial modern twist, performed well, the audience can admire how the dancers relate and move together in shared space. Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, aided by tango expert Nélida Rodríguez de Aure, comprehensively experiments with tango by varying the number and gender of dancers and adding unique stylistic elements in an all-around spectacular show.

Review by Alison Roberts-Tse at Sadler’s Wells on 22 May.