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In the spirit of Gardel: Esquina Carlos Gardel Tango Show Review

(Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

Nestled on the corner opposite the grand Abasto shopping centre, in an area haunted by his ghost, Carlos Gardel stands proudly in front of the late “Chanta Cuarto” - a gorgeous turn of the century building that now houses the Cena & Tango Show ‘Esquina Carlos Gardel’.


Upon entering the theatre, the world transforms into the golden era of Buenos Aires, with staff clothed appropriately in glamorous sophisticated dress that only the 1930s can achieve. Gorgeously decorated Art Nouveau style, in caramels creams and warm chocolates, Esquina Carlos Gardel’s theatre ambience does sophistication without unnecessary opulence. The theatre has a sense of warmth, with family portraits lining the walls and larger images of Carlos Gardel’s smiling face. Split in 3 levels, the main floor tables are for Regular guests, while Executive guests have private tables and booths that are slightly elevated. The booths offer a cosy and more intimate experience. VIP tables and booths are on the 2nd level, offering an elevated view of the entire show.


As dinner is served before the show, we were encouraged to order soon after being seated in our booth by our waiter. After generously pouring us each a glass of red wine, we were left to peruse the menu. Menus are written in English, Spanish and Portugese and each main food type (white meat, red meat, fish and vegetarian) has at least one option in the entree and mains section.  Each dish is appropriately named after a Carlos Gardel song and we opted for starters of Mano a Mano (empanadas de carne) and Soledad (thyme and corn-cream soup), followed by Mi Buenos Aires Querido (the infamous Argentine steak) and Sus Ojos Se Cerraron (roasted Atlantic salmon).  


It is almost impossible to finish a glass of wine as attentive waiters are bustling past every few minutes to attend your needs and generously refill your glass.  While the waiters aren’t intrusive, this level of activity on the floor during the meal was occasionally distracting. However, considering the entire place seats over 450 people, the speed and professionalism shown by the staff meant every table was well attended and no patron was left waiting for either food or drink. When the show starts, every table is left with full drinks (both alcoholic and coffee if requested). Waiters try not to enter onto the floor during the show, so as not to distract or obstruct anyone's view.  Whilst the food is of a high quality and impeccable cooked, it seemed lacking a degree of flair in its presentation, which again, is understandable when so many tables order 3 courses within several minutes of each other. The presentation did not distract from the deliciousness of each plate and both my partner and I had no trouble polishing off all three delectable courses including our desserts - Recuerdo Malevo (assorted cheeses and fruit pastes) and Amagura (dark chocolate mousse).


What sets Esquina Carlos Gardel apart though, is its show. While described under the umbrella of ‘tango shows’, this is best described as ‘tango theatre’ as the entire evening provides the audience with snippets of tango stories through different characters and partnerships. Scene changes are fluid and impeccable and dance routines are interspersed by song and orchestral renditions. On a raised stage above the dancers, the 8-piece orchestra weaves life into the tango songs accompanying the dancers. The sound is of high quality and a greatest hits of tango repertoire and will not leave you disappointed.

The calibre of dance from this company is at a world class level. It is impressive and most importantly, each partnerships strength lies in a different element of dance, meaning you aren’t overwhelmed by endless flashy kicks and moves that the more inflexible of us in society can only dream of ever doing.  The audience is given the opportunity to appreciate speed, flexibility, grace and simplicity by different dance numbers. Guests are transported from a playful whimsical milonga (complete with a bunch of balloons) to a barrio milonga where the young fall in love despite the mother’s attempts to stop it happen; enamoured by a graceful ballet-esque tango before a lightning fast and dramatic tango leaves you breathless. Uniquely, the company includes an older couple dancing tango milonguero style - just as you will see in the milongas today. For the more traditional of the guests, this is a wonderful opportunity to see tango as it is danced everyday by those of us who live this dance.


Esquina Carlos Gardel offers so much history in both its setting and show, giving guests the opportunity to learn about tango through a video that is played prior to the show. Images and videos from Buenos Aires’ golden age are used to show tango’s history and whilst it is in Spanish, it includes English subtitles and the audio is non-intrusive.  Overall, the experience of ‘a night at the tango theatre’ that Esquina Carlos Gardel gives, is enthralling and unparalleled, well deserving of bearing the name and spirit of one of Argentina’s most famous tango artists.

Floreal Milonga and the warmth of the Argentine Spirit

(photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

If you had walked into this particular Floreal Milonga at the wrong time, you would have been forgiven for thinking that the advertising had it all wrong. The lights were dim, cumbia was playing and the floor was filled with jiving people, a conga line and a single guy surrounded by many people clapping and whooping.  Comme Il Fauts were being kicked around in salsa style dancing and bodies moved in and out of embraces. This wasn´t any normal night at Milonga Floreal. This was a special day.


Organiser, Macelo Lavergata, was celebrating his birthday surrounded by the tango community and friends.  The night was extremely warm and both men and women were using fans in an attempt to dry off before the next tanda. But this didn´t stop a substantial amount of regular and friends from coming to this milonga, both to dance and celebrate his birthday.


I began attending Floreal soon after arriving in Buenos Aires. There was something about the continuity of regular attendees, the sense of family from those who came, the approachability of the dancers and the relaxed atmosphere that made me feel that this is tango at its most real.  It is a small milonga and usually attended by local dancers, remaining a steadfast Sunday night must-do for some milongueros. Its tables are covered in red checked tablecloths and the fideos are simply devine - home made by the organisers. This trio, Marcelo Lavergata, Lucila Bardach and Mariano Romero, work together to run the milonga, held weekly on Sunday nights.


Located in Barrio Flores, upstairs in Club Ciencia y Labor on Cesar Diaz (2453), Floreal is accessible for dancers of all levels.  The tiled floor space is large and inviting with plenty of space to dance. Exhibitions by professional dancers are made every week and there are music performances ranging from solos to orchestras.  It is not unusual to see the waitresses taking to the floor during a lull in the fideos and drink orders, successfully dancing in sandals or sneakers.


The history of the name of Floreal is somewhat interesting. From the information available, Club Ciencia y Labor was formed in the early 1900s for immigrants and socialists with links to anarchists. A popular name amongst anarchists at the time, was Floreal. One of the most famous sons of Barrio Flores is Floreal Ruiz, son of an anarchist and tango singer known for his delicate voice and love for singing. Lavergata wanted a name for his milonga that respected the history of the club where it was held and during a conversation with the first musicians who played at the first milonga, decided on the name Floreal - a name relating to both the club and tango.


With such consistency of attendees, it is easy to feel the warmth of the Argentine spirit within the room as you enter. One of the things I was searching for when coming to Buenos Aires, was to experience the love that porteños have for dancing tango in their own vivid city. At Floreal, there is a real sense of community and this was evident during the birthday celebrations.


Things to Know

Floreal Milonga

Sunday evenings at Club Ciencia y Labor on César Díaz 2453.


Head along early at 8pm for a tango class with Marcelo and Lucila.  The class can cater to a range of levels and Marcelo and Lucila are great attentive teachers that can offer personal attention if you need it.  The milonga begins at 9.30pm and finishes at 2pm.  DJ Mariano Romero provides an extraordinary arrange of fantastically arranged tandas for the evening.


Contacto: 4542-1418 / 155-962-3195 / florealmilonga@gmail.com.

Check their profile on Facebook for further details http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002256837021&sk=wall


Floreal Milonga is also supported by Vos Baila Zapatos which have a great range of shoes. Check their website www.vosbaila.com.ar.


 


A Portrait of Cafe Tortoni: Where Tango History lives On


(Photo credit to Aram Kudurshian)

It had been on my To Do List for awhile and I had no particular desire to join the crush of commuters that were bound to be filling the subte from the city centre at that time.  To make matters worse, the heavens had opened up and was trying its hardest to wash away the colours of the cityscape. Did I need any more excuses to grant myself permission to take advantage of one of the many cafes in Argentina? Certainly not and it was with delight I skipped through the raindrops to Cafe Tortoni.


I pushed open the curtained wooden doors to step into a cavernous ballroom filled with marble tables. Not the only one with ideas of escaping the rain, these tables housed a variety of people enjoying coffee and medialunas. The first time visitors were easy to spot - they were the ones with their SLR cameras out. But you can not blame them. This is one of the most beautiful cafes in the world (according to UCityGuides) rating it amongst other cafes in Paris, Rome and Prague. But it is by no means pretentious, retaining the warmth and accepting nature that I have come to love about Buenos Aires, so feel free to get out your camera as you won´t be alone in oohhing and aahhing over the decor.


Located at 825 Avenida de Mayo, Cafe Tortoni was founded in 1858, making it one of the oldest and most famous cafes in the country.  Its founder was a French immigrant (Touan) who named the cafe after an establishment on the Boulevard des Italiens in Paris.  Within its wood panelled walls, have sat some notable artists including tango singer Carlos Gardel and literary great, Jorge Luis Borges.  Apparently, Gardel used to drop by the cafe regularly, and on one occasion brought in his guitarists and gave a performance of Piradello´s plays. Tango still remains an important part of Tortoni and there are regular tango shows here. In 1979, Hector Negro penned the tango ´Viejo Tortoni´ which was dedicated to the cafe and sung by Eladia Blázquez.  Its beautiful lyrics describe the cafe as a living entity with its history alive and breathing.


Back in my era, the only table left was squeezed in the corner, from which I could survey almost the entire cafe. Waiters swarmed around the bar that runs down the side of the cafe, collecting many plates of medialunas to distribute to the hungry customers. The cups proudly display the Cafe Tortoni logo which notes the 2008 date when celebrations for its age began.  The walls are littered with paraphernalia linking its history to the present and one need only sit back and breath to feel a sense of nostalgia. The other great thing about cafes here in Buenos Aires is that you never feel rushed so I was able to sit back and savour the taste of the coffee and warm medialunas that had been served to me.


There are a significant number of notable cafes in Buenos Aires (around sixty) which are recognised as official Cultural Heritage sites and are given the name ´Bares Notables´. Cafe Tortoni is one that you must, without a doubt, take time to visit.


Things to Know

Cafe Tortoni

825 Avenida De Mayo, Buenos Aires


Being in the centre of town, this cafe is very easy to get to. It is very close to the subte line C (Avenida De Mayo station) and several blocks from Plaza De Mayo where the Casa Rosada stands.


Tango shows are also a regular event. See http://www.cafetortoni.com.ar/html/shows.html for information.





Tango in the streets: I HEART Buenos Aires moments

Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia 2011

 

I must admit, I am still yet to see any spontaneous moments of people dancing tango on the street here - an expectation that visitors to Buenos Aires commonly have. Excluding myself (I have been known to practice boleos while waiting for the bus) it seems that impromptu outbreaks of dancing tango on street corners are a myth created from having tango buskers who frequent the infamous markets of Caminito and San Telmo.

 

But it is true that many porteños live and breath tango in daily life. Not necessarily by frequenting milongas every weekend or even necessarily dancing this wonderful dance, but in a way that rises up from the soul of the city´s heart and worms its way into the culture. If you have your eyes and ears open, you´ll see this through their daily interactions and, what I like to call, I HEART Buenos Aires moments - those moments which make you stop and smile and can only happen if you´re in this wonderfully alive city.

 

One such fine example of this happened to me during a particularly warm pre-spring day. Out on my bike, enjoying the city at a relaxed pace only achievable with a single-gear bicycle, I became aware of a rather familiar tango melody weaving its way through the traffic chaos. As tango music radiating from cars common here, I did not see any peculiarities about this particular moment and continued on my way, happy at the possibility of a soundtrack to accompany my journey. As the voice continued singing with passion and gusto, it dawned on me that there was no backing track of a bandoneon lament or mourning soulful violin. As the flow of traffic drew to a stop at a red light, a middle aged man with a sun baked face and rough work-worn hands glided past me on his cycle-rickshaw bike, singing this tango at the top of his lungs.  He gestured with a large sweep of his arm and shake of his hand to direct his love and appreciation to the sun, the cornflower blue sky and any woman pedestrian who was crossing his path (tango is, after all, about love).

 

As the light turned green, he continued on his way down the busy city avenue singing loudly and seemed blissfully at peace despite the loud and obvious large city going ons that were all around him. How happy he seemed with only his bike, the sun and, of course, tango. After all, this city is all about romancing and if its residents can add romance to a trip down a busy avenue, it signifies that there is something special in their veins.

 

As a visitor to Buenos Aires, it´s easy to think that tango is only alive in the milongas and dance halls. However, it is not unusual to see old transistor radios tinkling out the tango-only station from the sill of a shuttered window during Sunday mornings. During a taxi-ride home, a friend mentioned to the driver that she was heading to a small barrio milonga and he launched into an excited monologue of how he knows and admires the DJ of the milonga, how much the music of tango speaks to him as a porteño, how he enjoys meeting those people who come to the city to experience it and would she like two free entries to several of the milongas that were happening this week?

 

Tango started in the barrio and there its heart remains, in the eyes of the old man you sit next to on the bus, in the heart of the gorgeously wrinkled woman sitting next to you on the subte, in the veins of the two gentlemen playing chess in the park on a Saturday, in the connection between generations as the young discover the vinyl of their parents, in the couple kissing in the doorway, and in the gatherings of young folk who can surprise you with their knowledge of and appreciation for the tango of old. Watch out for the tango, it hides in the simplest of places. 

Tango Floorcraft: How to dance when your limited space is the size of a tabletop

(Ricardo Viqueira y Fish - 2011 Seoul Tango Festival)

 

It was as quick as lightening and by some miracle, left my foot unscathed. While extending my leg and foot behind me, the follower closest to me was led into the rock step, extending her foot backwards and rebounding forward again.  The golden spike of her dazzling Comme Il Faut shoe slipped down between the sole of my foot and the arch of my shoe before somehow extracting itself almost immediately.

 

Some may wonder how it is that with so many couples on a dance floor (and almost 50 % of these people wearing potentially dangerous high heels), there are not more collisions, splayed legs or blood on the dance floor. Well, floorcraft is one of the key lessons that a tanguero must learn for both leading and following. It has as much to do with skill as with attitude.

 

In essence, floorcraft requires an observation and awareness of other couples on the dance floor and is the choices of step and direction that you make during your dance. Followers and leaders have different requirements to successfully navigate a crowded dance space and there are plenty of websites that offer lists of rules to follow. As dancers will agree, these rules are not for the sake of being pendantic. They are there to ensure a safe and enjoying evening on a crowded dancefloor, stemming from respect for others and respect for the dance.

 

Leaders: You need to imagine you are driving a car. You stick to your lane, you remain aware of all others drivers on the road, what the car is doing behind you and whether the car in front is going to put its brakes on. You avoid tailgating and avoid dangerous manuovers like pulling out into the other lane and reckless overtaking. Remember all these and you are well on the way to being a respectful dancer at a crowded milonga.

 

Followers: If you're wearing heels, you need to be aware of the amount of people on the dance floor. Taking a bigger step backwards than required may lead to a large gouge out of a leader's leg. And keeping your heels on the floor during sweeps and boleos will lessen the chance of your heel coming into contact with someone else's leg.  Many followers enjoy dancing with their eyes closed but sometimes the leader may appreciate you being the eyes behind him incase there is a reckless dancer on the floor.  Simply applying a slight pressure to the back of the leader can indicate 'beware!' and assist them in avoiding a collision.

 

As you sit back sipping your malbec and watching the milonga, you will notice that all dancers move in an anti clockwise direction (referred to here as the current). Sometimes you will notice two 'lanes' of dancing - an outside lane and an inside lane. While sometimes the couple will turn around, the leader always faces the direction of the current and the follower dances backwards in the flow. Bumping into people is to be expected on a crowded dance floor, and most people are apologetic, immediately making eye contact and nodding or smiling in apology.

 

While there are plenty of flashy and complicated moves that are part of the tango vocabulary, any dancer will tell you that some of their most memorable and 'connected' dances will be when someone puts more emphasis on the connection rather than the moves. And this does not require much more space than a table.

 

Don't believe me? Well, back in May 2011, Seoul hosted a week long Tango Festival and this performance was given at the Farewell Milonga. Ricardo Viqueira hails from Buenos Aires and in this performance, shows why he is one of the masters of tango. Details on why they were challenged to perform on a table are sketchy but it goes to show that the beauty of tango can also lie in the simplicity of movements and the interpretation of music within such a small space.

 

Enjoy.

 

2011 Seoul Tango Week Farewell Milonga - Ricardo Viqueira y Fish

 

Interested to read more on floorcraft? Check out these pages:

 

http://tangocorazon.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/on-the-dance-floor-floor-craft-101/

 

http://www.totango.net/floor.html

 

http://closembracetango.com/tango/tango-floorcraft