It may not please the most purist tango lovers -- it may even scandalize them. But the affair going on between "Forever Tango" and salsa star Gilberto Santa Rosa may be one of those summer romances to remember.
"Forever Tango" is back on Broadway with its passionate moves, looks and emotions, three special guests and a twist: Grammy Award-winner Santa Rosa has brought not only his voice to the Argentine classics but also his own style and rhythm, plus a couple of his own songs: "Si te dijeron" and "Que alguien me diga." Both have heartbreaking lyrics perfect for the tango.
From the first notes of the "Garúa" and "El día que me quieras," to the tango adaptations of his songs, the Puerto Rican crooner triggers cheers from the audience as he shows the talent and charisma that earned him the nickname the Gentleman of Salsa.
The same enthusiasm is shown for Ukrainian-born ex fiancées Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, the other two guests in the show, from the hit TV series "Dancing With the Stars." Their undeniable strong technique and presence is fun to watch (especially as ex-lovers in an intensely fiery third number), even if they can't always disguise the lack of naturalness in their moves and expressions, all of which flows through the veins of the company's tango dancers.
It is a hard dance to master, the former Latin ballroom dancing champions have admitted. "It's like trying to be a great poet but in a different language," Chmerkovskiy said recently to The Associated Press.
The tango is probably Argentina's most popular export. It developed in Buenos Aires in the 1880s blending local styles and elements of Cuban, African and European music. The salsa, probably one the most popular forms of Latin American music, was popularized in New York in the 1970s, although many argue the rhythm itself was born years before in Cuba.
The other "Forever Tango" dancers include Juan Paulo Horvath, Victoria Galoto, Marcela Durán, Gaspar Godoy, "Zumo" Leguizamón, Belén Bartolomé, Florencia Blanco, Hernán Lazart, Diego Ortega, Aldana Silveyra, Sebastián Ripoll, Mariana Bojanich, Soledad Buss, César Peral and, as the comedic relief to all that steam and passion, Natalia Turelli and Ariel Manzanares, who playfully make the audience laugh.
The music is exquisitely played by the orchestra, which includes great performances by "Forever Tango" creator Luis Bravo on the cello and by Jorge Vernieri on the piano. But the spotlight is on four senior bandoneonists (the youngest is 70), who stand out with their artistry and enthusiasm: Víctor Lavallén, Carlos Niesi, Jorge Trivisonno and Eduardo Miceli.
"They are masters that play the way the tango should really be played. They don't come like that, not anymore," Bravo said last week during a press conference. "If I didn't come with the masters I wouldn't have come."
"Forever Tango" will be at the Walter Kerr Theatre until Sept. 15, with Smirnoff and Chmerkovskiy performing until Aug. 11.
Santa Rosa, who adds some salsa flair with "Que alguien me diga," finishes his limited engagement on July 28, but the show's affair with salsa will go on with Nicaragua-born star Luis Enrique, who will be joining from July 30 to Aug. 18.
“Forever Tango” delivers just what its title promises.
Think of the show as an Argentinian tasting menu of music, moves, mystery and mucho sensuality — but without a 12-hour flight to Buenos Aires.
And it’s got everybody’s favorite “Dancing With the Stars” moneymaker-shakers, Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who guest-star through Aug. 11.
As any “DWTS” fan can tell you, tango whips up mighty drama in mini details — a foot flick, torso torque, eyebrow arch. But you don’t need to know any of that to savor the athleticism and eroticism of the 16 cast members.
Juan Paulo Horvath and Victoria Galoto start things off. Each emerges from behind an oversized bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument with a distinct melancholy tone. It cleverly conveys that music and dance are inseparably woven.
Tango is sexy — and it’s also a bit S&M-y, what with men and women pushing each other away, then pulling each other close. Love is a battlefield, and here it’s littered with fedoras and stilettos.
One memorable scene calls to mind the gym dance scene in “West Side Story.” Two men tango together in a throwdown for alpha status. Ex-lovers Maks and Karina, who appeared in the 2009 Broadway dance show “Burn the Floor,” get three showcases. Their elegant first dance finds him in long-tail tux and her in a short black wig. She lets her hair down and he unbuttons his shirt for dances that follow. Yes, they’re sizzling hot.
It’s a bare-bones show. No sets, just a stage full of 11 musicians, with Grammy-winning Latin crooner Gilberto Santa Rosa as a guest vocalist through July 28. On the cello is Luis Bravo, the show’s creator and director, who’s already brought this show to Broadway in 1997 and 2004. When he called it “Forever,” he meant it.
There’s a reason we have a revue like “Forever Tango” and not “Everlasting Jitterbug” or “Always Rumba.” Since its beginnings in lower-class Argentine neighborhoods, tango has enjoyed global success, becoming an international code word for both torrid passion and popular routines on “Dancing With the Stars.”
Maybe it’s that combination of stylized aggression, pent-up sexuality and aloof intensity that draws fans: A hard-to-get lover can be more rewarding than an easy conquest, and tango doesn’t try to charm.
That may explain the enduring popularity of “Forever Tango,” which opened last night on Broadway for its third go-round, 16 years after winning a Tony for Best Choreography during its initial run.
As before, the show reels off one number after another, backed by an onstage 11-piece band. Sometimes a single couple takes the floor; other times, several pairs glide by each other.
Still, creator/director Luis Bravo decided not to take any chances and roped in popular guest stars to boost his ensemble, tango integrity be damned.
Those who love “DWTS” will be happy to see the (stage) reunion of the famously on-again-off-again Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, especially since the temperamental Maks didn’t participate in the show last season. (As it is, the couple will be in “Forever Tango” only until Aug. 11.)
Both are comfortable here — having appeared in the 2009 ballroom extravaganza “Burn the Floor,” they’re Broadway vets by now — and they sure deliver something, if not traditional steps. With Karina, it’s a haughty stare and “Don’t mess with me” attitude. With Maks, it’s a bubble butt and hints of sculpted pecs.
The two drew big applause, but not as much as the other featured performer, Gilberto Santa Rosa.
The dancers disappear when the Puerto Rican crooner comes on to make women swoon — at a recent performance, cries of “Te quiero!” rang out from several rows. (Another singer, Luis Enrique, comes in on July 30.)
Never mind that Santa Rosa’s famous for salsa: This isn’t a show for purists. There are tons of acrobatic, “Cirque du Soleil”-like lifts, and Maks’ pelvic gyrations during the big finale are closer to Santa Rosa’s salsa days, but nobody seems to mind.
The rest of the evening sticks more or less to the usual tango vibe, with unsmiling performers decked out like guys and dolls at a louche — but sizzling! — nightclub. Costume designer Argemira Affonso seems to have plundered the “Chicago” closet, with lots of fedoras and at least one see-through black-lace unitard.
Among the men, “Zumo” Leguizamón stands out for his pudgy build and fleet feet — his partnership with Belén Bartolomé results in a couple of the best routines — while Ariel Manzanares goes out on a stylistic limb by incorporating humor in this most serious of dances.
Maybe that’s why tango endures after all these years: Like the smartest predators, it evolves.
I both love and hate you; nothing remains in life but you and tango; come dance this last tango with me before we kill ourselves. The version of tango propounded by “Forever Tango” is tango for tourists, madly glamorized and highly absurd. A sign as you enter the Walter Kerr Theater — where the current revival of Luis Bravo’s popular tango spectacular is now running — tells you there will be gunfire during the performance. If there was gunfire at Thursday’s performance, I was unaware of it; I wish other spectators better luck.
Three guest stars of this season are the Puerto Rican singer Gilberto Santa Rosa and the Ukrainian-born dancers (fresh from “Dancing With the Stars”) Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Mr. Santa Rosa, with unlovely tone but immaculate diction, sings calmly, in Spanish, of love, sadness and night at several points in the show. Ms. Smirnoff and Mr. Chmerkovskiy, who are among the show’s least stylish tango executants, may well be its freest spirits.
The best item, though, is the live music, played by an onstage orchestra of 11: 4 bandoneóns, 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello (Mr. Bravo himself), 1 bass, 1 piano 1 one keyboard. Some of the most irresistible tangos here are those played with no dancing. You can feel the tango’s sensual march, its percussive footwork, its romantic drive.
Many forms of dancing are based on walking, but tango is the one where a man and woman largely walk — stride, pace, stamp, pounce — as if joined together at the hip and brow. A sense soon builds up of fatal attraction; the more the two people turn away from each other or the more they flourish their feet and legs, the more these look like struggles against destiny and the relentless drag of the rhythm.
Actually, tango can be witty and joyful, too. But “Forever Tango” — though some of its dancing happens, incidentally, to be good — prefers the clichéd view that tango is grimly smoldering, driven by remorseless destiny and joylessly erotic. In several cases here, the women wear dresses slit to the hip or skirts made of tassels that reveal the thighs — and fishnet tights, as Quentin Crisp once said of Carmen Miranda, “with holes so wide that whole shoals of haddock could have swum through.” Lipstick is worn very dark, and the lips are held together, so that the mouth looks like a wound. One man, Diego Ortega, wears a layer of brilliantine so thick that his hair looks like a black patent-leather bathing cap.
The mood is set by the ensemble of six male-female couples. Though they also do the program’s best dancing, mainly in individual duets, it is they who have to act out the show’s notion that tango couples are dressed to kill and take no joy in each other.
An early scene suggests that its women are prostitutes, passed from man to man. Its men are like gangsters, wearing low-brimmed hats and double-breasted jackets, who try to fight but not hardly because of any particular woman. Check out on YouTube how some of these artists dance back in Buenos Aires — for example, Mr. Ortega, Mariana Bojanich and Sebastiàn Ripoli — and you encounter a wealth of style suppressed by “Forever Tango.”
In one duet, a woman allows her long black hair to spray over her partner’s face like a veil. In another, a woman looks at her partner with evident scorn. A third, with dark-auburn hair flamboyantly loose, behaves as if men are O.K., but she’s forgotten which one this guy is.
It was a pity that Ms. Bojanich’s dark, side-parted hair kept falling over her face. The program’s most stylish flourishes occur in her dancing with Mr. Ripoli — marvelously crossed-over ankles, beautifully spruce phrasing — but they’re presented as the least remarkable performers on offer. The token comedy duets are performed by Natalia Turelli and Ariel Manzanares; his fixed smiles and hyper-cute antics are immediately insufferable.
Nobody embodies the bizarre and sexed-up aspects of the show better than the Ukrainian stars. Mr. Chermovskiy has his short-sleeved shirt parted to his navel; the cut of his trousers leaves us in no doubt of his muscle tone. Ms. Smirnoff keeps her lips (which are painted a Day-Glo kind of crimson) consistently an inch apart and pouting outward throughout their dance numbers: quite a feat.
They begin one number with him kneeling and her lying horizontally across his shoulders like a high collar. Though they aren’t the only couple here who turn tango into a form of athletics, the moment when he holds her upside down while they remain cheek to cheek is as memorable an image as the production affords.
Still, they’re very much a guest turn. The main color schemes are all black, white and silver, with occasional red and gold; she alone is allowed to display a blue petticoat. And only they are allowed to dance one of their numbers to taped music — a big all-strings affair — though with an overlay of Mr. Bravo’s live cello.
The other big athletic stunt comes from Victoria Galoto and Juan Paulo Horvath. After various up-over-and-round lifts, he holds her spread-eagle horizontally above his head and then rotates at speed, as if she were the blades to his helicopter.
Still, I’ve seen another tango couple execute that trick before. Nothing — since usually in tango the women wear very high heels, even if everyone is attired in grunge — had prepared me for the barefoot number that Soledad Buss performs here, “Soledad.”. From the ankle up, she wears just black-lace allover tights, her hair is long and blond, and she displays a lavishly glittering display of starry makeup on her cheekbones and eyes. César Peral, who arrives to partner her during its course, wears shoes, T-shirt and trousers, also in black. They looked like an advertisement for something — but not for tango.
This is a foolish production. Belittling its own music, it turns tango into a mere formula, an excuse. Its real heart is in surface displays of costume, makeup, coiffure and sexuality as melodrama. Only the musicians look sincere.
The guest headliners at "Forever Tango" through Aug. 11 are Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, those superstar virtuoso-celebs from "Dancing With the Stars" by way of Ukraine. And their audience-pleasing, hyper-theatrical, show-off numbers are lots of fun -- especially if you appreciate the allure of unbridled ego.
But the real stars of Luis Bravo's "Forever Tango" -- the ones keeping the forever in the tango -- must certainly be the 16 dancers and the 11-piece orchestra now serving as more than mere summer filler on Broadway.
Bravo, whose tango concerts ran 14 months on Broadway in 1997-98 and another four months in 2004, combines the feeling of a very grown-up nightclub with seriously thrilling displays of a dignified and steamy art form.
It's amazing how much variety -- and how much heat -- can come from a man and a woman who hardly look at one another and when they do, they scowl. Tango, which originated in the streets of Argentina and Uruguay in the 1890s, is presented here as an earthy yet elegant glorification of the tension between erotic passion and the bracing restrictions of form.
But first, a word about the wonderful musicians. Onstage against a black backdrop are a pianist and a string quintet and, through July 28, songs by Grammy-winning Spanish love balladeer Gilberto Santa Rosa.
Most of all, there is a bandoneon quartet -- four real pros, men who look as if they've been around the town square a few times, playing small accordionlike concertinas with a suave urgency that resonates through time and cultures.
Most of the tangos lean heavy with excitement on the first beat, then surround the other three beats with complicated ornamentation.
Although the dances vary -- and get increasingly fancy through the program -- the drama is a contest between lines and circles, the contradictory impulses to travel in broad steps across the stage and to corkscrew human holes into the ground.
The men in their tuxedos and fedoras, the women in their long gowns with the deep slits and their Vampira lipstick keep their upper bodies quiet and their hips stuck together as if magnetized.
Almost all the movement -- and there is a seething amount of it -- happens below the knees. A quick backward kick of a stiletto can suggest stories that some theater takes hours to tell.
You don't need to have watched a single episode of Dancing With the Stars to spot the reality TV transplants in the new Broadway production of Forever Tango (* * ½ out of four).
Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, the Ukrianian-born hoofers whose flashy moves and romantic history — they were engaged a few years ago for about nine months — have titillated Dancing fans, are actually only guest stars in the show, which opened Sunday at the Walter Kerr Theatre. They'll end their run Aug. 11, in plenty of time for the fall television season.
But at a recent preview, the pair stood apart from the other performers, and not just because of the hoots of recognition that greeted their appearance. The tango is a dance that relies heavily on the physical and sensual rapport and tension between partners. The assorted couples in the regular cast — many of whom have appeared in previous stagings of Tango, which creator/director Luis Bravo conceived in the early '90s — lock into each other with an intensity that might seem almost satirical to the uninitiated.
Smirnoff and Chmerkovskiy, in contrast, appear much more focused on seducing the audience. Positioned front and center in ensemble numbers that close both acts, they're the designated exhibitionists, mugging — Smirnoff thrashing her hair, Chmerkovskiy flaunting his hulking torso in a shirt unbuttoned down to his navel — as their colleagues delicately smolder. Their dancing may be technically impressive, but like the submedium that made them famous, it lacks wit, restraint and nuance.
Those qualities are fundamental to the art form that Tango celebrates; and in spite of its cheesy packaging, they are evident intermittently. The dancing couples, who choreograph their own work, evoke distinct personalities: Mariana Bojanich and Sebastian Ripoll are elegant and deliberate, Soledad Buss and Cesar Peral ethereal and athletic, Aldana Silveyra and Diego Ortega tempestuous, "Zumo" Leguizamon and Belen Bartolome frenetic.
Natalia Turelli and Ariel Manzanares provide charming comic relief with jaunty, character-driven routines, while the preternaturally spry Victoria Galoto and the fiery Marcela Duran offer a study in contrasting diva styles.
There's certainly no shortage of eye candy here, from the dancers' strong, often refreshingly voluptuous bodies to Argemira Affonso's tailored, glittering costumes, which immerse the young performers in old-world glamour. The men's hair is slicked back until it sparkles; the women manage gravity-defying heels with casual confidence.
An orchestra of distinguished-looking, virtuosic musicians is prominently featured, playing lush, romantic instrumentals. They're joined by another guest, veteran salsa singer Gilberto Santa Rosa, on such classics as El Dia Que Me Quieras and Si Te Dijeron. (Luis Enrique will take over starting July 30.)
Santa Rosa's rough-smooth baritone sounds a bit worn around the edges, but his suave, slightly grandiose presence proved just as irresistible to viewers as Smirnoff and Chmerkovskiy's sultry shtick. Perhaps he has a future on the small screen as well.