m!longa: a dance party

Birmingham Hippodrome
May 26, 2017

Milonga (n). A social event at which tango is danced. A tango dance party.

And a dance party is precisely what Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the terrific cast of m!longa dish up. Toss in some gorgeous black numbers for the women by designer Tim Van Steenbergen and live music by Szymon Brzoska and Fernando Marzan, performed live by an on-stage quintet, and you have a heady mix that will keep you more than happy.

m!longa is a clever mix of duets, trios and occasional ensemble numbers. It’s an exploration of tango in all its forms, especially milonga itself, a distinct style of tango that is much faster-paced, the rhythm sharp, the steps small and always just below yourself, and with none of the expected syncopated pauses.

A couple of the duets are terrifically exciting. Feet flick and lick the floor, and legs corkscrew and scissor around each other at warp speed. Most dramatically of all, the women are occasionally tossed in the air and caught again with what looks like incredible abandon. And it’s all made to look so easy; always a sign of class. There are slower, graceful, more considered dances too, where intimacy and passion really come to the fore. A comedy number is less successful.

In the group dances, Cherkouai often has the dancers change partners, a nod perhaps to how a milonga often worked in practice. No woman would dance with a newcomer until she had seen what he could do, so his more experienced companions might ask a friend to dance with him, so he could prove his skills and the others could see.

German Cornejo and Gisela Galeassi in m!longaPhoto Tristram Kenton
German Cornejo and Gisela Galeassi in m!longa
Photo Tristram Kenton

The best dance is maybe the most unexpected. Although very much dancing in close quarters with each other, there’s a definite sense of competition as German Cornejo, Martin Epherra and Claudio González dazzle. It’s not only intensely complicated, but of course each at some point has to come terms with being led rather than leading. Again, there is some historic truth in this. Men dancing with men while waiting for a female partner, or in line at a brothel, was quite common.

But m!longa, the show, is about more than tango, and indeed milonga, the dance. Giving things a modern twist Cherkaoui tosses in a couple of contemporary dancers, Jason Kittelberger and Ema Yuasa. Their dance lacks the intimacy of much of the rest, but certainly makes for an interesting counterpoint. A solo from Kittelberger is loaded with fluid, smooth flips and rolls that just melt into the floor.

Cherkaoui also successfully creates something of the feeling of Buenos Aries, the city, thanks to some cleverly edited film that takes us into the heart of the city. I particularly enjoyed the section that works like a children’s pop-up book.

There’s no big finale. In a neat touch, the end comes gently, the show slowly winding down as parties do, but like all the best evenings, leaving memories of great music and dance.

m!longa continues on tour to June 17. Visit www.danceconsortium.com/milonga for details.