Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Tango Zone

Imagine, if you will, a rock concert. A Band plays on stage, up front. A sea of people expand out around the stage, cheering the first notes of songs they know, going wild at the end of each number, and listening with rapt attention in between. Pockets open up in the crowd where hard core fans thrash away, only to die down at the end of a song, openning again in another part of the audience.

Now imagine that the band is a Tango orchestra.

Same scenario, different music. Except instead of thrashing and moshing, pockets open in the crowd with a few couples dancing. The dance lasts for the length of the song, and then the pocket collapses. The next song begins and another pocket opens. All this happens to the cheers of the crowd.

The Tango festival's crowning event was this sort of scene. The Gran Milonga al Aire Libre, on Saturday night, consisted of a band shell constructed in the middle of a large, five-lane avenue, and three city blocks of the same street blocked off for spectators and dancers. The band was an orquesta tipica - four bandoneĆ³ns, four violins, a viola, a bass, and a piano, accompanied by a singer. Beautiful music, accompanied by beautiful dance.

The large city blocks created one of the largest dance areas I've ever seen. The dancers included an amazing variation: young and old dancers mixed together on the street. This mix showed just how alive and well tango is here in Buenos Aires.

This is only the eigth annual Tango festival, so it doesn't necessarily have a long history. It seems like an affirmation of local culture. It really celebrates the major contribution to world culture that tango has been. It's also very much a Buenos Aires contribution. It's origins are here, and it's future is here. Neo-tango sounds, from groups like Tanghetto and the Gotan Project[1], as well as changes to the dance are keeping it alive and vibrant.

The festival certainly created a great cultural experience with the Gran Milonga. The event was enjoyed by dancers and onlookers a like. A beautiful, late summer night, made more so by a highly enjoyable event.

[1] Ok, so the Gotan Project is actually a French group. The French have been playing very similar music for years - accordian and violin-based jazz.

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