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Review: Tango star needs a stronger bench

February 5, 2009 |  6:00 pm

TangobigGuillermina Quiroga has definite ideas about tango. The director and choreographer of “Tango, Historias Breves” wants to broaden our perceptions of the Argentine national dance beyond the standard cabaret format and themes of other touring shows. But despite such lofty intentions, the collection of dances — the brief stories of the title — that Quiroga presented at Royce Hall on Wednesday night fell flat, hindered by her equally strong desire to create a star vehicle for herself and the substandard technique of her supporting dancers.

To be sure, Quiroga is an engaging stage presence and a formidable talent, with her six o’clock leg extensions and penchant for getting tossed about in complex, dazzling lifts by longtime partner Cesar Coelho. And after seven years together, Quiroga and Coelho are so seamless a couple as to be symbiotic. It is a delight to watch them dance.

Certainly Quiroga deserves a format to display her particular gifts, the result of combining her extensive ballet training with her skill at tango. “Tango, Historias Breves” might have been such a setting if she had brought in an outside eye to help her realize her grand thematic ideas and cultivate her choreographic aspirations.

Entblog_photo330Instead, these ideas went undeveloped, often abruptly shut down as they began to advance beyond an opening image. Nowhere was this clearer than in the opening duet, “Adam y Java,” an attempt to unite the essence of tango with the essence of the Creation.

As innovative as this might seem for the opening foray of a tango show, one had to look very hard beyond the sensuous but unstructured partnering and the hyper-feminine and equally over-the-top masculine posturing to find the tango element — a shard of a spin, slowed down into a sinuous move. And just as this began to develop, the stage went dark and the taped music came to a sudden, abrasive stop.

Equally confounding was “Sor Juana’s Dream.” Set to excerpts from Luis Bacalov’s grandiose orchestral “Misa Tango” and music by Astor Piazzolla, it began with the surprising image of three women — Quiroga, Silvia Toscano and Deborah Quiroga (no relation) — posed as if crucified. Though a program note suggested the piece meant to portray three different love relationships based on a philosophical satire by the 17th century Mexican intellectual and poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, only Quiroga and Coelho danced. The other couples, Toscano with Marcelo Bernadaz and D. Quiroga and Angel Coria, merely demurely shuffled about in slow-motion tango moves upstage.

Lengthy live music interludes by the serviceable Cuarteto Cacho Acuna were interspersed throughout the evening, but the musicians remained uninspired until the second half, which offered them more opportunities to perform with the troupe.

Similarly, the dancers, who also included Martina Martinez and Claudio Ferreyra, seemed to come alive only in set pieces that eschewed Quiroga’s aesthetic aspirations in favor of fun and tango dancing, served straight up. Of special note was “Festejando,” which allowed the troupe to stretch their acting talents in a comical story of a neighborhood wedding party.

More than through levity, the piece succeeded by returning to tango’s roots as a social dance that thrives on interaction — among the dancing couples as well as with the musicians — rather than refined display.

Although an audience might overlook the occasional stumble, the number of missteps throughout the evening suggested that Quiroga needs to pay more attention to rehearsing her troupe. The essence of tango may be, as she believes, the male-female embrace. But it is how this embrace unites a couple to enable continuous revolving around a shared axis and intricate leg and footwork that audiences want to see.

— Sara Wolf

Photo: Guillermina Quiroga and Cesar Coelho. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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