Is Tango Nuevo a Form of Stage Tango?

 

It has been established previously (Is Tango Nuevo Compatible with Tango de Salon at the Same Milonga?)  that the space-exploring movements of tango nuevo, with their expansiveness and inherent unpredictability, render tango nuevo poorly adapted for social dancing at the milonga, where regard for the space of other dancers in the circulating ronda is paramount. When viewing exhibitions given by the most prominent dancers in the tango nuevo school, the large movements, the opening and closing of the partner connection, and the frequent use of such figures as ganchos and high boleos are in marked contrast to the maintained close embrace, the compact movements kept close to the floor and partner and the conservative use of embellishments characteristic of contemporary tango de salon, i.e., tango milonguero and closely related stylistic variations. Thus, with respect to its repertoire of movements used and the visual image it projects, tango nuevo appears to resemble stage tango to a considerable degree. In addition, when viewing some contemporary tango stage productions, many movements characteristic of tango nuevo (e.g., volcadas, colgadas, enganches, linear and contra boleos) (Tango Nuevo: Definition of the Dance) are present in stage tango performances. This similarity, compared to the contrast with contemporary tango de salon, leads to the question as to whether tango nuevo is a distinct genre of tango with its own unique identifying characteristics or whether it is instead inherently and primarily a pathway in the evolution of stage tango.

The Defining Characteristics of Stage Tango

The defining characteristics of stage tango have been discussed previously (Stage Tango / Show Tango / Exhibition Tango / Tango Fantasia / Tango for Export). To summarize, what classifies tango as ‘stage’ tango is the performance of tango in a theatre setting with a series of scenes linked together (perhaps loosely) with a theme or thematic development. There are environmental elements that are external (in definition) to the dance, such as background scenery, props, and costumes that complement the thematic development. There is typically drama, not only in the exposition of the theme through gross movements, but also in the finer movements, facial expressions and postures used to express emotional content consistent with the thematic development. Not all movement of performers in a stage tango production is confined to dance; there may be parts of scenes that reflect other activities and interactions. The tango stage production is designed for entertainment of the audience.

In terms of the characteristics of the dance, movements are large in order to be visible to the viewing audience, and movements are often rapid and sometimes acrobatic in nature, apparently designed in part to demonstrate the physical skills of the dancers, which also has entertainment value. The vocabulary of stage tango includes giros with sacadas and possibly sandwiches that are derived from tango de salon, but also elements such as ganchos and high boleos that are considered inappropriate for use at a milonga in Buenos Aires. Couples often separate during dancing, sometimes shifting to the ‘al reves’ position, impractical situations for the social dance floor. Most modern stage tango productions incorporate movements from ballet, jazz, and modern dance into dance performances. Unless a scene is designed to represent a milonga (with various degrees of accuracy), stage tango dancing does not follow a ronda. Most dancing in a stage tango production is completely choreographed, typically to fit variations in the music, and thus is not improvised. As part of the choreography, in many scenes the movements of different couples (or sometimes even solo dancers) are coordinated, perhaps moving in unison, perhaps taking turns dancing with other couples remaining stationary, or perhaps forming different movements that are designed to fit together in the dramatic presentation of a scene.

The Defining Characteristics of Tango Nuevo

The characteristics of tango nuevo have been described in detail previously (Tango Nuevo: Definition of the Dance). Tango nuevo is an improvisational exploration of the spatial relationships between partners in the dance, using movements that pre-existed in tango, or are modifications of pre-existing movements. As in stage tango, tango nuevo utilizes a basic vocabulary of walking alternating with turns (giros), with sacadas, ganchos and boleos interspersed within these giros. Likewise, the embrace is flexible, alternating between a closed embrace and an opened frame and partial or complete separation of partners (the latter labeled as ‘soltadas’). In these characteristics, minus the ganchos, high boleos, and soltadas, both stage tango and tango nuevo are similar to the tango del salon of the 1940s and 50s (specifically tango estilo del barrio, from which they were derived. Added to this basic shared tango structure are the central identifying movements of tango nuevo that are considered some of its primary (if not unique) contributions to the tango movement vocabulary – linear & contra boleos, back sacadas, enganches, volcadas and colgadas.

Nuevo Tango on the Stage

Although most instructors identified as associated with the tango nuevo movement due to their teaching methodology typically give exhibitions in a milonga setting, some have also given performances in a theatre setting at tango festivals using typical tango nuevo movement vocabulary, for example Fabian Salas & Carolina del Rivero, Chicho Frumboli & Eugenia Parilla, and Sebastian Arce & Mariana Montes. These stage exhibitions are loaded with movements characteristic of tango nuevo, i.e., volcadas, colgadas, ganchos and enganches, linear boleos, back sacadas, and soltadas. However, some leaders in the tango nuevo movement have also given tango performances on stage with few or no movements that are unique to tango nuevo, as seen in these performances by and by Gustavo Naveira & Giselle Anne and by Pablo Veron. (See also this stage performance by Pablo Veron from the movie ‘The Tango Lesson’.) Some tango instructors identified as part of the tango nuevo movement have a background and training in stage tango, e.g. Pablo Veron and Sebastian Arce & Mariana Montes, as can be seen in the movements used in their exhibitions referenced here; however, most tango nuevo instructors do not have formal training in stage tango. The involvement of most instructors of tango nuevo in stage presentations of tango is generally a minor or even negligible part of their professional tango careers.

Although these tango nuevo performances are on the stage, characteristics of stage tango that are missing are scenery, props, costumes, make-up, and plot development characteristic of stage tango productions. All performances are by one couple only. There is minimal or no expression of emotion or incorporation of dramatic elements. (There is some in the Frumboli – Parilla and Arce – Montes performances.) Thus, some defining features of stage tango are absent.

The Influence of Tango Nuevo on Stage Tango

  • “Tango Nuevo is often misunderstood and mislabeled as ‘Show Tango’ because a large percentage of today’s stage dancers have adopted ‘tango nuevo’ elements in their choreographies.”

This quotation has been repeated verbatim numerous times. A Google search of this quotation will identify over 40 web pages with this statement. The most likely source of this statement is the Wikipedia ‘Argentine Tango’ page, although the statement no longer appears in the current version of this entry.

The degree to which tango nuevo has influenced stage tango would be evident in the degree of integration of movements characteristic of tango nuevo into stage tango performances. Performances from several popular and representative tango shows are reviewed below with regard to this issue. These recordings were selected on the basis of quality and having sufficient length to reveal a variety of movements.

(1) Forever Tango

The ‘Gallo Ciego’ scene with a single couple performing is fairly traditional, consisting largely of elegant walking with some giros. There are several movements involving partial or complete separation of partners and some unconventional positions in the embrace, and although this is somewhat characteristic of tango nuevo, these elements existed in stage tango prior to their appearance in tango nuevo. There are numerous dramatic poses, a lift and spin and other exaggerated movements (including a few quebradas), as well as some sensual touching and exaggerated facial expressions expressing passion, all characteristic of stage tango.

The ‘La Cumparsita’ scene has 3 couples performing in a coordinated manner. The traditional tango movements of walking, giros and ochos are present. There are characteristic stage tango movements such as kicks, spins, a sentada, and an exaggerated calesita. There are a few characteristic tango nuevo movements, such as what appears to be a partial volcada (around 4:25) and a linear boleo (around 5:50), in other words possibly only 2 movements attributed to tango nuevo taking a few seconds each in an approximately two-and-a-half minute performance.

(2) Tango Por Dos

This medley of scenes from ‘Tango Por Dos’ shows many tango fantasia elements characteristic of stage tango such as quebradas, sentadas, and dancing in the al reves position. There are also some other movements characteristic of stage tango that have been borrowed from other performance dances, such as spins, lifts and twirls. (The dancing in some of these scenes resembles classical ballet.) There are partial and complete separations of partners that have been adopted by tango nuevo, and there is a liner boleo (around 3:50). There are no off-axis movements (i.e., volcadas and colgadas) developed within the tango nuevo school.

(3) Tango Passion

This recording of a scene in Tango Passion shows some synchronized dancing of individual dancers and couples that is characteristic of stage tango. There are the standard stage tango elements of lifts, spins, kicks, and quebradas. There is some resemblance to tango nuevo in the 4th couple dancing solo (around 1:10 – 1:25), in their use of ganchos and enganches (somewhat characteristic of Norberto ‘El Pulpo’ Esbres, although performed more rapidly) and a back sacada.

(4) Tango & Fire

This preview of Tango & Fire highlights features of this stage production that are typical of contemporary tango stage productions, but which largely originated from sources other than tango. There are lifts, drops, throws and other acrobatic movements. There are dramatic elements unrelated to dance such as sensual touching of the partner unrelated to dance movements, as well as overly dramatic displays of emotion. There is synchronized movement of couples that is characteristic of stage tango, as well as some characteristic stage tango movements such as boleos, ganchos, and quebradas. There is no evidence of movements that are characteristic of tango nuevo.

In the recordings of popular stage tango productions referenced above, there are a few tango elements whose development has been attributed to tango nuevo – the volcada, the enganche, and the linear boleo. In this exhibition at a tango festival, Claudio Villagra & Romina Levin, currently members of the cast of Forever Tango, use some movements characteristic of tango nuevo, e.g., some colgadas (1:15 – 1:20, around 2:40) and linear boleos (3:25 – 3:35), but the exhibition is essentially a standard stage tango performance with elements of spins, lifts, quebradas, the al reves position, frequently changing partner connection, and dramatic poses and exaggerated expression of emotion.

Despite the evidence from stage tango productions presented above, one could argue that the contribution of tango nuevo to stage tango is relatively recent and would be less evident in the long standing tango stage production companies. Some insight on recent changes in stage tango might be evident in the performances given by participants in tango escenario division of the annual Campeonato Mundial del Tango in Buenos Aires. Referenced below are performances given by winners of this competition in the last 4 years:

2010: Diego Ortega y Chizuko Kuwamoto

This performance is mostly a standard contemporary tango escenario, with some nuevo-like movements such as a grounded linear boleo emanating from a colgada (around 1:20), some lifts with linear boleos (0:55, 2:40), and some atypical volcadas (1:25, 2:48).

2009: Jonathan Spigel & Betsabet Flores

This performance is mainstream tango escenario, with no movements popularized by tango nuevo.

2008: José Fernandez & Melody Gisele Celatti

This performance includes numerous elements attributed to tango nuevo, such as linear boleos (around 0:35, between 1:30 – 1:40), enganches (0:50 – 0:55, around 2:20), colgadas (1:20 – 1:25, around 2:30, around 3:25), a standard but subtle forward lunging volcada (around 2:25) and a backward volcada (0:38), the latter not characteristic of tango nuevo. These movements are integrated within a performance including stage tango elements not characteristic of tango nuevo, such as lifts, twirls, drops, quebradas, the al reves position, and dramatic poses and sensual touching. There are also elements shared by stage tango and tango nuevo that are not part of the accepted repertoire of movements for tango de salon, such as ganchos, high boleos in numerous directions, and changes in distance, direction and points of contact in partner connection, including underarm turns during separation.

2007: Fernando Gracia & Natalia Tonelli Attori

There is a couple of enganches (around 2:50, around 3:10) and about a half dozen or more linear boleos in this performance, but it is otherwise standard tango scenario.

These stage tango performances indicate that the prominence of tango nuevo vocabulary in stage tango performances is minimal, in comparison to the exhibitions given by the leading architects of the tango nuevo movement (e.g., Fabian Salas & Carolina del Rivero and Sebastian Arce & Mariana Montes. Thus, tango nuevo has contributed to stage tango to some degree, but the review of stage tango performances indicates a much larger influence of ballet and modern dance upon stage tango than that of tango nuevo. Notably, ballet and modern dance have had minimal influence upon the evolution of tango nuevo (See videos referenced in: Tango Nuevo: Definition of the Dance,  Tango Nuevo versus Tango Milonguero: A Comparison, Is Tango Nuevo the Evolutionary Descendent of Tango Estilo del Barrio / Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza).

The Influence of Stage Tango on Tango Nuevo

Stage tango predates tango nuevo historically and has contributed much to tango nuevo in terms of the movements used, e.g., ganchos, high boleos, and soltadas. In fact, the prevalence of linear boleos in the stage tango performances reviewed above suggests that the previous assertion (Tango Nuevo: Definition of the Dance) that this movement was developed within the tango nuevo school was incorrect. A 1986 video of the show Tango Argentino shows a linear boleo (around 1:55), indicating that this movement had existed in stage tango prior to development of tango nuevo in the 1990s. Closer examination of movements used in both stage tango and tango nuevo indicates that the volcada (with the woman falling rapidly forward) is a natural extension of ‘el puente’ (the bridge), a similar but typically slower off-axis forward movement of the woman, often associated with a calesita, popularized by stage tango dancer Carlos Gavito (around 2:00 – 2:10 in this video and around 1:10 – 1:15 in this video). The back sacada, used to varying degrees by tango nuevo dancers but less often by stage dancers, also pre-dated the development of tango nuevo, as indicated by these recordings of performances done prior to 1990 – in the movie 1988 Tango Bar (around 0:40), and a back sacada of the woman to the man by Elvira to Virulazo (1926 – 1990) (Todo Tango) on a television show (around 0:55). If the origin of all of these movements that are characteristic of tango nuevo exhibitions is via adoption from stage tango, then perhaps the only characteristic movement that was uniquely developed within tango nuevo is the colgada. This perspective is consistent with the views of Pablo Veron, who in a 2009 El Tangauta interview said:

  • The fact is that those who believe that they dance “nuevo” are mostly using the same old elements. The movements already existed, it is a shame that they do not say so: turns, ganchos, boleos, sacadas of the man and of the woman to all sides, changes of direction, arrastres (dragging), paradas (stops), corridas, leaps, crossed steps, etc.

Thus, from the perspective of the movements utilized, with the possible exception of the colgada and, to a limited degree the volcada, no new movements have been developed within the tango nuevo school. Given the evidence presented here, one could argue that tango nuevo should be considered to be a subgenre of stage tango, perhaps a laboratory for the testing of new movement combinations that can be incorporated into stage tango.

The Differentiation of Tango Nuevo and Stage Tango

The logical fallacy in considering tango nuevo a subgenre within the more inclusive genre of stage tango emanates from the comparison of the two forms of tango only in terms of the movement vocabulary utilized, i.e, the visual image they each project to the viewer. The differences between tango nuevo and stage tango along other dimensions need to be identified and recognized.

Stage tango focuses on drama and entertainment of the audience. Its natural niche is the stage. There is a theme or plot to a stage production. Supporting the plot are background scenery, props, and costumes. Supporting the drama are visually conspicuous expressions of emotion in facial expressions, sensual touches and exaggerated movements that are not central to the structure of the dance. The dance itself is designed to be conspicuous. The acrobatic elements provide entertainment. The coordination of different couples or individual dancers is designed for entertainment. The movements of the dancers are choreographed, not improvised.

There is no doubt that tango nuevo exhibitions can be entertaining. However, entertainment and drama are not inherent qualities of tango nuevo. In conrast to the scripted choreography of stage tango, tango nuevo is an improvised dance that explores the movement possibilities that exist in tango. The movement repertoire borrows extensively from stage tango, which offers a rich repertoire of tango movements. Many tango nuevo exhibitions emphasize the new movement possibilities that have been discovered within the school of tango nuevo, in particular off-axis movements such as volcadas and colgadas. Compared to stage tango, in tango nuevo there is considerably less incorporation of movements derived from other dances such as ballet, modern dance and jazz into exhibitions. Tango nuevo is entirely a couples’ dance, not a solo dance. Because tango nuevo is improvised, coordination among couples on the same dance floor is irrelevant, even inconsistent with the basic character of the dance. To provide maximum freedom in the exploration of the spatial dimension, a large space for freedom of movement is advantageous and the high floor density of the milonga is a hindrance. Tango nuevo is the physical expression of an academic discipline, the result of an intellectual exercise. The natural niche of tango nuevo is neither the stage nor the milonga, but rather the practica.

As a point of comparion to both stage tango and tango nuevo, tango milonguero is a compact dance designed for the high floor density at the milonga. It central identifying feature is the communication of man and woman in a closed embrace, improvising on the music (Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace). Tango milonguero is a social dance. Its natural niche is the milonga.

Tango nuevo and stage tango share many movement characteristics and there has been cross-fertilization between these genres of tango. However, when examined along other dimensions – particularly the incoporation of drama and the use of improvisation, they serve very different purposes and the rationales behind their development are different.

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2 Responses to Is Tango Nuevo a Form of Stage Tango?

  1. jantango says:

    Thank you for another excellent post with thorough investigation. You have come up with a perfect definition of tango nuevo. The practica is the perfect place for a physical expression of an academic discipline as the result of intellectual exercise.

  2. tangovoice says:

    Tango nuevo has its niche. Although tango nuevo has caused considerable conflict within tango communities, it is inherently neither good nor bad. Within its own niche – the practica – where, in the spirit of the Naveira – Salas ‘Tango Investigation Group’, new movement possibilities can be explored, it may offer insight that may be useful to other genres of tango. To a limited degree, tango nuevo has contributed some movements to stage tango, as outlined above. Problems occur when tango nuevo moves outside the niche to which it is adapted. In particular, the transference of tango nuevo to the pista of the milonga has been a major cause of conflict, because tango nuevo and tango de salon abide by different concepts of the use of space. In Buenos Aires this is resolved by having separate venues for dancing tango de salon (the milonga) and tango nuevo (the practica). Perhaps tango communities in other parts of the world will one day recognize the wisdom of this separation.

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