Theatrical ‘Tanguera’ highlights dynamism of tango

Tanguera - Photo: Alex Rumford

The riveting Tanguera showcases the nuanced, intimate art of tango in a bold, Broadway fashion. Passion, power and jealousy interplay in a clear storyline that mixes elements of West Side Story and Moulin Rouge.

Beneath red velvet drapes, lyrical strains from the live band swoop off stage, beckoning the audience to Buenos Aires. Here, bright-eyed French immigrant, Giselle (Melody Celatti), arrives at the docklands amidst construction workers and fisherman hauling in their catches.

Honey-toned Marianella sings of sueños (dreams) and declares, “We will begin together,” as townspeople mill about and local groups show off their moves. The synchronised quartet of ladies merrily twirling and flourishing their shawls signifies the jovial atmosphere.

Dockworker Lorenzo (Esteban Domenichini) becomes infatuated during a fleeting meeting with Giselle, but she is promptly lured into the seedy world of cabaret by the domineering Gaudencio (Dabel Zanabria).

Tanguera is an exciting, compelling show that portrays tango a through a truly unique lens

Lorenzo is left with his mates, who horse around and mockingly harangue him for his love interest. The male duos whip each other into lifts and spar with airtight footwork, which is a rare treat in tango. But, as Siobhan Murphy notes in the programme, “men… were not averse to dancing with each other, in displays of masculine swagger and to pass the time.”

Tanguera translates tango, known for intimacy, into a polished narrative. This approach highlights technicality and character performance, emphasizing tango’s dynamism.

Still, the voyeuristic nature of tango is fulfilled in sultry silhouetted scenes of couples languishing in each other’s arms. The saucy moments of embrace are so intimate, I feel like a crude intruder as brassy saxophone notes blare out sweltering melodies.

Dark themes of violence and control pervade the show, as female dancers shrink away from the macho characters. Men force the women into deep lunges and extreme backbends, occasionally leading with their hands around the neck. At one point they simply shove the dancers to floor, leaving the women to cower.

But the unabashed nightclub mistress, Madam (Carla Chimento), fully embraces her position of power. She struts around solo and unflinchingly meets her male partners, radiating raw seduction with meticulous steps and flicks.

Lorenzo continues to court Giselle, even as she becomes more entrenched in brothel life. Giselle’s quick-stepping dance with both Lorenzo and Gaudencio intrigues as they switch partners and glide across the floor as a trio.

Tanguera - Photo: Stefan Malzkorn
Tanguera – Photo: Stefan Malzkorn

Tanguera resorts back to theatrics as Lorenzo leads a group of men to rescue Giselle from the gang of pimps, but the exuberant finale, curtain call and subsequent encore numbers are pure tango. 

As the show closes, the dancers reprise moves seen earlier in the show. Women are flung from low lunges into lifts and vice versa; rapid foot taps on the knee explode into a high kick; and one dancer resorts to her signature cheeky hip shake.

The refined dancing within Tanguera dazzles all the way to the back of the house, but as such, some of the characteristic grittiness and subtlety of the tango is lost. However, the award-winning choreography displays multiple facets of tango, from elegant effortless leg lifts to playful scampering grapevines.

Reviewed by Alison Roberts-Tse at Sadler’s Wells on 20 July.