Tango, they say, is the closest you can get to sex with your clothes on. Which makes "Tango Argentino" the nearest thing to being just good friends.
Instead of dirty dancing, it offers fun so good and clean that it's almost antiseptic. Take away a few gallons of alcohol and add a huge dose of skill, and it's a bit like watching the aunts and uncles of the bride strut their stuff at a wedding.
"Tango Argentino" was not the first international show to turn an ethnic dance tradition into a theatrical display. But its success here and in Europe blazed a trail for others.
The problem is that the shows that followed "Stomp" and "Riverdance," for example have gone a lot further. Compared to their visceral excitement, "Tango Argentino" seems rather genteel.
It is, in fact, odd that "Tango Argentino" made such a breakthrough in the first place, because tango as a theatrical form has two big drawbacks. One is that it greatly encourages the use of the accordion. And that vile instrument is required to repeat the same basic rhythms over and over.
More seriously, the tango is a dance for couples. It can't be used for a chorus line or for solo performances. As a result, it's almost impossible to create the variety that a two-hour show demands. Most Broadway dance shows like "Fosse" and "Swan Lake" can shuffle the pack of dancers in any number of combinations.
But "Tango" can't. Its notion of a change in tempo is a singer who performs a Latin ballad with a passion that would have made Tammy Wynette seem like a model of emotional restraint. Or to have us watch the orchestra on a bare stage for a few minutes.
To get beyond these limits, the show would need to offer some kind of dramatic structure or imaginative context. A story or even a mood could create the variety that the dancing lacks. But "Tango Argentino" doesn't even try to create one. There is no setting, just a full-frontal view of the orchestra dominating the stage.
Only in one number does the show have the bones of a story line. In a sequence called "Milonguita," most of the company is involved in a kind of dance version of "The Blue Room," with a woman passing between partners of different sexes.
It's not exactly Shakespeare, but this sequence is the best thing in the show. Simply because it has a dramatic shape, it encourages a freedom of movement that really engages the audience. For once, instead of watching supremely skilled performers go through their paces, we are fully involved in a set of actions.
This is a glimpse of what the show could be like with more creativity from Claudio Segovia's "choreographic conception." For the show has some real assets.
For a start, the company includes some of the most exquisite creatures on Broadway. The women are rather pretty, too.
And the dancing, of course, is skillful, elegant, even athletic. If watching endless twists, twirls and glides is your idea of fun, this is for you.
But if you expect more from a Broadway show, don't go "Argentino.”
Tango shows come and, for the most part, go. But there is one, "Tango Argentino," that came first and so far has lingered glowingly in the memory.
Now, at last, it's back in all its proud, careless and glittering glory, at the Gershwin Theater, opening last night and running through Jan. 9.
In 1985 "Tango Argentino" started a craze and, unexpectedly, became the hottest ticket in town, moving from City Center to an extended Broadway run and earning a Tony nomination. The brainchild of two imaginative Argentine director/producers, Claudio Segovia and the late Hector Orezzoli, this dance-revue caught the very essence of Buenos Aires and its sensual dance.
The question this time around was whether Segovia could re-create the old magic following the death of his long-term partner. Happily, with the assistance of quite a few of the original dancers, including Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves, the initial concept seems gorgeously better than ever.
The look of the show is impeccable. It is a costume symphony in black and white, done entirely in 1920s style, flapper slit skirts, slick hairstyles and cool manner.
The nine couples are backed by a fine group of musicians, including four on the bandoneon, that eccentric Argentinean button accordion, and four singers. But the specialty of the night is the dancing. And what dancing it is!
The dances all suggest a crisp pattern of passion, the gestures of submission and conquest, with movements as intricately calculated as chess, as filigree as lace.
If you saw and loved the show before, I promise you will not be disappointed. And if you didn't see it before, why are you waiting around reading this? It may not come a third time in your lifetime.
The faces are stern, still and smoldering, the hair sleek and slick, the feet in a frenzy. "Tango Argentino" is back on Broadway, more than a decade after it first took the White Way by storm. Swing may be the newest dance craze to sweep the country (and hit Broadway via the upcoming "Swing" and "Contact"), but tango is hardly down for the count, as this sexy and satisfying evening of dance proves.
As before, "Tango Argentino" is a laudably straightforward show. There is no set to speak of, just a backdrop with a limited repertoire: black, white and sparkly. Most of the design budget appears to be devoted to the rhinestones, velvets, sequins, silks and satins of the women's gowns. Lighting is crisp and attentive to the speedy moves of the dancers, who take the stage in pairs.
The small orchestra (strings, piano, four bandoneons -- accordions) sits at the rear of the stage, and performs some palate-cleansing orchestral interludes between dance solos. There are a few guest spots from stylish vocalists singing extravagantly dramatic songs of love affairs that did not, I fear, end happily. (My Spanish is weak, and yet no translation is needed for such tales of woe.)
But the durable dance duet of the title is the undisputed star here, as performed by a cast of some 19 dancers with a century or two of combined experience in this stylistically demanding genre.
Their artistry is dazzling, as they glide across the Gershwin's ample stage locked together in poses that, from the waist up, might be mistaken for a clinch shot from a 1940s movie poster. Below the waist, by contrast, takes place a flirtation of epic proportions. The dancers' feet trace elaborate patterns on the floor, glide coquettishely in between, over and up the legs of their partners, dip and dive and race and clinch and slide in elaborate combinations.
The pairs all have their own personalities, presumably born of years of intimate teamwork and, in more than one case, marriage. Some accent the dance's sexual aspects, others its theatrical or athletic possibilities. One elaborate setpiece depicts a partner-changing melodrama that ends, rather distastefully, with a woman's murder. Despite its coolly glamorous attitudinizing, tango is, after all, about hot blood.
Several dancers are returning to Broadway after performing with the original "Tango Argentino" in 1985. Tango dancers grow into their art, it seems: The physical prowess of youth can be electrifying, but the tango is more about style and experience and a natural rapport with another body. Many of the most captivating dancers in "Tango Argentino" are now ample of age, and in some cases even girth -- a refreshing change from the youth and physical perfection required by other, more merciless dance forms.
Tango's popular moment may have passed, but "Tango Argentino's" return to Broadway is welcome, particularly in a theater season that seems to be rediscovering the pleasure and power of dance.