German Cornejo’s Tango Fire, Peacock Theatre, London ★★★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

It’s now just over 10 years since the Argentine Tango came to the attention of the general population when Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace joined Strictly Come Dancing. Like the more familiar ballroom tango, the dance was one of passion – but with its rapid tempo, its intricate kicks and flicks, and its use of dramatic lifts, the Argentine made that passion thrilling in ways that the ‘conventional’ tango rarely managed.

And despite the accomplished and dramatic show dances, the variations that make the Argentine Tango what it is came out of the milonga dance halls, reflected in a style which often feels more loose and improvisational. And it is that setting which is reflected in the first act of Argentinian choreographer German Cornejo’s show, Tango Fire. Including performances from five couples, dancing either in their own show pieces or in several ensemble numbers, the show starts very much in that mould of formal informality – the men in sharp three-piece suits or cravat-topped waistcoats, the women in matching dresses.

This is very much a dance setup where the men are calling the shots. When they are not dancing to attract or seduce the women, they use the same moves on each other, turning that same passion into macho bluster and playfighting. Cornejo’s group dances have a streak of humour, and always with a sense of controlled precision masquerading as natural improvisation, as if Bob Fosse had taken up residence in a milonga.

The four-piece band, headed by musical director Matias Feigin, deliver the atmosphere with their take on many classic and contemporary tango melodies. Their accomplished performances throughout provide an effective backdrop to the dancers’ best efforts. And it is when the dancers break into the couples’ show dances, each choreographed by the couples themselves, that the evening’s most thrilling and seductive moments take place.

Chief among these are Ezequiel Lopez and Camila Alegre, whose fluidity and character storytelling demonstrates why they were worthy 2015 World Tango Champions. Within the first act’s milonga setting, their dance is the perfect illustration of why passion is nothing without humour. As the legs fly, hook and unhook around each other with increasing velocity, Lopez and Alegre weave in some gravity-defying lifts with such grace and precision that they feel completely at one with the piece. At the other end of the scale, Sebastian Alvarez and Victoria Saudelli try to pack in many more lifts in a demonstration of their technical ability – but in doing so, illustrate how much smaller the margin of error is for such moves, and how missing that margin even ever so slightly can make the most technically difficult lift lose that requisite element of grace.

If the first act is all dance hall informality, the second is much more the traditionally moody, darkly lit version of the passionate tango. That frisson of humour in each dance may disappear at this stage, but the versatility and speed remains, giving more space for each couple to showcase their take on the tango. Again, Lopez and Alegre provide the most thrilling solo performances, closely followed by Cornejo and his partner Gisela Galeassi.

The show’s closing moments, as the couples and musicians take their bows, show a sense of fun and mischief that exceeds even the humour of the show’s more ebullient first act. And while it would have been joyous to see more of that throughout, one can’t criticise too much a show which produces a thrilling couple of hours of superlative tango.

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