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Flash Review 3, 10-27: All-women, All-tango
TangoMujer Seduces Philly

By Anne-Marie Mulgrew
Coyright 2000 Anne-Marie Mulgrew

PHILADELPHIA -- TangoMujer, in its first U.S. tour, made its local debut Tuesday at the Annenberg Center's Harold Prince Theater, opening Dance Celebration's Next Move series. The program featured a premiere, "Vice Verso," and seven short dances from repertory dating from 1982 to 1999. Tango lovers of all ages and persuasions packed the house, ready for anything (and they got it) from this gender-bending five-women international troupe. What unfolded was a delightful, entertaining evening that informed, seduced and questioned what is tango. Is it a dance of temptation, lust, power, wit, surprise, humor, individuality? Is it a language, a state of mind?

TangoMujer (mujer is woman in Spanish) is a collaborative company. The artistic directors and dancers, trained in modern dance and tango, are Fabienne Bongard, Angelika Fischer, Rebecca Shulman, Valeria Solomonoff and Brigitta Winkler. The seven short dances seem ed to psyche the audience up or the compelling thirty-minute dance theater production, "Vice Verso." Here are a few examples showing the range of the smaller scale works.

In "La Yumba," on a dimly lit stage, two dancers in suits (Winkler and Fischer) tango to music by the Osvaldo Pugliese Orchestra. The scene is reminiscent of an old social haunt perhaps similar to a place in Argentina where men danced with men. In one revealing moment, Winkler takes off her hat exposing waist-length silken blond hair. Winkler and Fischer, partners for over twenty years, move as one body, wonderfully connected. It appears that they are both master followers and leaders, taking the audience along for a seamless ride.

"Malena" opens with a contemplative solo by the slim Shulman in a short red dress, barefooted. Her introspective fragile quality is interrupted by Winkler's entrance (barefooted in a blue dress). They partner, mixing traditional tango elements and modern dance. There are drops to the floor, spirals, arched backs, attitude legs that wrap and runs in this charming semi-narrative dance about friendship.

Quick-witted, imaginative and athletic, native Argentinean Valeria Solomonoff tangos with her own shadow in "Maria." Using light and the back black wall as support, Solomonoff handstands, rolls, and pushes against the wall, creating fantastic shapes and balances. The shadow's reflection at times is incongruous. The reflection is not always what you are seeing live. Could this be an analogy for how some perceive the tango?

"La Ronda" (to the music "Lagrimas y Sonrisas," performed by the Rodolfo Biagi Orchestra) is a humorous skit about waiting and dancing. Fischer is holding a silver tray, watching, lurking as others dance. There are partner exchanges, tray exchanges and wonderful ensemble tango/folk dancing moments when all five move around a tray. I enjoyed this nontraditional "take" on the tray as one partner and the ensemble the other. Hence, it takes "two to tango." Also performed were radically different works on relationships -- "The Letter," "Emancipation," and "Mala Junta."

The audience returns after intermission to find a piano and small table on the stage as if in a cafe or bar. "Vice Verso" is a narrative-driven tango dance-theater work for a cast of five characters, a singer (Isabel de Sebastian), original music by Pablo Aslan played by a master bandoneon player, Hector "Tito" Castro, and acclaimed pianist Maurizio Najt. Superbly directed by Mark Hammond, costumes are by Brenda Rousseau with lighting by Clifton Taylor.

The story is about a big shot womanizer and gambler, Atilio, performed by the ever-so-convincing Fischer; Pedro, his best friend (Winkler); Tita, an old flame of Atilio's who is now a good friend (de Sebastian); Nina, the new girl in town (Solomonoff); Aldo, Nina's ex-lover (Shulman), and Lola, a lottery ticket seller (Bongard). It's about flirtation and betrayal in seven compelling scenes. There is very little text. The story is told through unbelievable dancing, acting, singing and music.

"Vice Versa" opens with the wonderful sound of the band playing and de Sebastian singing. Lola makes a fabulous entrance (a repeating motif) on a scooter with sunglasses. Atilio and Pedro are playing cards and the new girl, Nina, enters. This is the beginning of a hot tumultuous romance. There is a divine dance where Atilio woos Nina with numerous three-foot strings of pearls. Aslan's music now has hints of a middle eastern flavor as Nina places a string on her belly. Nina, young, vulnerable, easily impressed, yet very elegant is taller than the tough, cock-sure, always gets what he wants Atilio. Nina gets a letter from her old boyfriend Aldo and remembers the good times they had.Aldo returns to find Nina. A brawl ensues in modern tango style. Aldo is thrown out. Left alone, he dances a dance of rejection, solitude, and depression. He stumbles, falls, crawls, writhes in the air, is pathetic and very sad. (After seeing Shulman in the red dress, this character transformation is astonishing.) Somehow, Nina finds Aldo. They dance a dance of lost affection. Enter Atilio (who during Nina's departure flirts with Lola, a hot voluptuous redhead). Nina decides to leave with Atilio only to have Atilio dump her. Nina is left alone. Pedro, Atilio's good friend discovers how mean Atilio really is and leaves him. Meanwhile, Lola enters and Atilio tries to flirt, but by now but Lola realizes he's a jerk and is totally not interested.

Intermittently, de Sebastian sings, with many stunning costume changes, looking remarkably chic with her faux auburn-red hair, green sequinned jacket and high heels.

Hammond should be applauded for his clear direction and pacing as should be the dancers for their choreographic contributions.

What amazed me about this evening was how the dancers embodied their characters -- freely moving across gender lines -- and how vast the language of tango is, especially when dosed with contemporary dance vocabulary.

TangoMujer continues in Philly tonight and tomorrow night.

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