Live from the tango belt
An original musical production conceived, written and directed by Valorie Hart and Alberto Paz for the Second New Orleans TangoFest, August 15-17, 2003 at the Doubletree Hotel in New Orleans, LA.
It is interesting to note that while Valorie and Alberto created the script and storyline and selected the music, they left it to each of the performers to interpret their presentations as they saw fit. This improvisational daring paid off in a spontaneous and surprising performance.
Valorie and Alberto set the bar high by having the performers dance to a live orchestra. For that, they hired a group of local musicians, the Orquesta Milonga, and coached them to acquire the authentic accent and phrasing, stylistic accuracy, spirit and passion we have come to associate with the sounds of the Argentine tango.
The film itself works on more than one level: one has a real sense of being part of the audience experiencing a live production. But with the interjection of early photo imagery, the film becomes an historical and entertaining entity in its own right.
Click here to watch video on Dailymotion website
The night Pugliese died
July 25, 1995
Like the guy at the street corner or the next door neighbor, that’s how PUGLIESE was. But deep inside that slender figure, beyond the thickness of his myopic glasses, there was a volcano that erupted with his tangos.
OSVALDO PUGLIESE was a figure that showed the way to the modernism of tango without leaving the essential roots. In 1924 he created RECUERDO, a composition far advanced for his time. The dialogue of the bandoneons still today represents the pinnacle of tango interpretation. Then, NEGRACHA, MALANDRACA and LA YUMBA became a trilogy that opened the way for the vanguard tango.
The orchestra of the MAESTRO grew up in the sprawling neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Leaving behind the mud and pathways described by BARDI, COBIAN and AROLAS, PUGLIESE absorbed the pulse of the new city and began to foresee its future. In those new places, he discovered a new Argentina, with a violent rhythm, powerful like gun powder, with all the strength of an industrial revolution, OSVALDO PUGLIESE captured the mystery of the city into music and named it La Yumba.
La Yumba was a lyric poem that made people tremble with emotion as they saw themselves interpreted by the captivating melody. There was Yumba in the ecstasy of the public at every venue where the orchestra performed. Yumba was floating in the air when a labor dispute tore apart the city and PUGLIESE entered the Ford Motor Co. factory that had been taken by the workers, and embraced each one of them as a gesture of solidarity with his people.
PUGLIESE died tonight and there is Yumba in my heart and it pounds so hard that I can’t hold on to my tears and I can’t tell if the music is coming from the speakers or from my soul.
Suddenly, is LA BIANDUNGA, then EL PENSAMIENTO and now LA MARIPOSA. Was it just yesterday that very dearly I held against my heart a beautiful woman and with my eyes closed I went around the dance floor falling in love with every beat of a PUGLIESE tango?
Tonight she is far away, PUGLIESE is dead, I’m alone, unable to stop the wrinkled box lodged in the middle of my chest from sobbing and the sound of his music is tearing me apart.
Tango, your music hurts like a dagger in my chest, and yet, I love you!
The night we danced La Mariposa
New managers and the old Cumparsita
Since October 2012 we have been hosting a fourth Sunday of the month milonga at a very impressive restaurant overlooking the Mississippi river with a panoramic view of the city skyline. It is a very rare circumstance to find such a prime real estate for tango in a city that lives off tourism and dollars spent drinking and eating. The concept of well adjusted adults sipping cheap Cabernet and munching potato chips in between long periods of elegant dancing is not enticing for most public establishments in the city. So, we were very fortunate that the space in question was available on slow Sunday evenings. A wonderful owner made the whole difference allowing our dancers to feel welcome in a separate dance hall with very tall ceilings and gigantic windows.
The restaurant industry offers great mobility to people who choose to pursue careers in the field from managers to receptionists and waitstaff. We have had four different managers in the course of our six milongas since October 2012. As each new manager is hired there is a teaching moment they have to go through regarding the set up of the room, the placement of the DJ table, and how to provide table service without darting in and out of the dance floor. There is one especially important aspect of the revolving door managers that we have had to deal with on several occasions: handling closing time. Although the restaurant stays open past 10 pm, our milonga goes to 10 pm. We all agree that 10 pm means people no longer can expect to be seated and served, but every time a new manager walks in at a quarter to ten and begins to clear the tables, fold the chairs and remove the tablecloths while people are still dancing, we go through the same routineNew.
This is the opportunity for a teaching moment: explaining to quizzical eyes that the Argentine tango is a ritual that celebrates the culture and traditions of a far away city, and that we approach tango dancing with an understanding of how those traditions are adapted to our national, regional and local communities. We explain the concept of grouping the music in sets separated by a short interlude to allow people to take care of personal necessities, such as food, drinks and greetings. We also explain that the music is programmed to end very close to 10 pm, and that we make the announcement that the last set is about to play to give dancers an opportunity to chose who they want to share the last dances of the night with. Then, following a tradition common in the halls of Buenos Aires, we play as the very last song, a universally known tango called La cumparsita. That is the official end of the dance, and that is the time to start folding chairs, cleaning tables, and clearing the room. It is not very nice to start busing tables while the evening has not officially ended and people are still dancing.
For a month or two we enjoy a great evening end to end, until a new manager walks in at a quarter to ten, and another teaching moment is called for…
1. If and when the last set is announced, people know and may expect that there will be a last tango called La cumparsita.
2. While La cumparsita is playing, it’s not nice to start busing tables and moving chairs around those still dancing.
3. Wait till the song ends, people clap thanking the DJ, and the hosts thank those still present for their support.
4. Then have the bus crew move in.
The Guest List
Early in 1996 we dropped out of the corporate and high tech worlds to pursue our new found love affair with each other and the tango. Looking into the future we reckoned that we had at least twenty years of strong legs on which to dance our way around the world. Unknowingly we become the first full time couple teaching across the USA for a span of ten years on a continuous basis.
With still a few years left on that twenty year investment of good legs, we still dance and teach, but have become more grounded in our adopted city in the South, New Orleans. Unexpected events of life have made us stop, and look back, realizing that we had never set aside the time to rekindle the memories embedded in dozens of photo albums, VHS tapes, Digital 8 and Mini DV cassettes.
One photo in particular brought back memories of an aspect of our lives that we seldom talk about, or arguably brag about. The photo was of a sign that hung on the front gate of our Silicon Valley home. It was the first sign that welcomed those who entered our Planet Tango.
From 1996 to 2000, we served as the gateway into the Bay Area tango community for many well known and a few unknown artists… We promoted, translated for, and provided work opportunities to the initial wave of visiting dancers from Argentina. We were also innkeepers and house hosts to many of them.
|Pupi Castello||First and only exhibition ever in the USA|
|Graciela Gonzalez||with Graciela Gonzalez|
After our relocation to New Orleans in 2000, we continued the tradition of hosting well known artists at our House of Tango and yearly Tango Fests, until 2005…
|Orlando Paiva, Jr.||Yes|
Those were wonderful years of non-stop tango life, a period in time when we didn’t realize how important it was to help so many artists to break into the new world that the USA was to become for tango… With a few exceptions, we have never heard from most of them again. So we don’t know if they ever felt the love, dedication and generosity that was gifted to them.
For us, their walking through our doors and in and out of our lives constitutes a collage of experiences we’ll never forget for as long as we live…
Requiem for a Niño Bien
Like the mythical milongueros of the golden years, who went to the milongas for the sole purpose of taking a girl out for coffee afterwards, but went home alone till the day they died, there are people who believe that some dance organizers get “rich” with tango. We don’t know anyone who got rich but over the years we’ve known plenty who have faced hardships because of their love affair with the tango. If you pay attention, there are always signs that the demise of a milonga is probably underway. At the local level it begins when organizers begin to plead with their patrons to “buy a drink, tip the waitress,” or both. It is very difficult to find businesses that show an interest in tango beyond the amount of drinks they pour or the number of menu items they serve. On a much larger scale, many well established milongas in Buenos Aires that take place at social institutions find the executive committees not interested in the good of the tango, but in the money they make without investing a peso on the infrastructure. According to Marina Gambier, who blogs for daily La Nacion, Tangocool, a nine year old milonga at Club Villa Malcom, created as a challenging alternative at the time for many young people who were looking for a more relaxed tango with less behavior and dress codes, held a farewell party, with tears and some anger on Friday, March 22, 2013. In this case the signs were evident long before the outcome. Villa Malcolm‘s bathrooms were notorious for their filth. They were never cleaned on the days when there was dancing, and sometimes during summer classes, the air conditioning was not turned on.
On, Thursday, April 4, 2013, milonga Niño Bien became another casualty on the downward slope of the current forty year cycle of the tango. Organizer Luis Calvo opened the milonga in 1998 at the legendary Centro Region Leonesa hall on Humberto Primo 1462. By early 2000 the Niño Bien milonga had replaced the legendary Club Almagro as the place where the old and young dancing elite gathered to excel in front of a growing foreign audience. It was the place to be, to see and to be seen on Thursday nights. And during low tourist season the locals were able to enjoy the magnificent salon with a polished wooden floor during low tourist season. The milonga organizers were getting hit on several fronts: the high cost of rent and taxes, tourists who came with fewer tangodollars, and locals who were broke because of inflation and a bad economy. It’s not known how teachers are faring. Today, with more and more Europeans “teaching” and people learning to dance from You Tube, there are worse dancers than ever on the floor. This discourages the locals even more from going out dancing. The only ones who seem to be doing well are the tango for export dinner/show venues which are raking in up to 50% of the 1.5 billion tourist tango pesos, .
We first visited Niño Bien in 1999 while escorting two ladies from Hawaii as part of a guided tango tour of Buenos Aires. The hall was a lot bigger than Almagro. It was rectangular instead of square, and negotiating the dance floor was quite an eye opener for the traveling ladies. We returned six years later during our Katrina exile tour, and we became part of a group with a reserved table on Thursday nights. At the time we didn’t know whether we’d ever be able to return home to New Orleans, nor where we’d end up hanging up our shoes for the evening. To this day we crack a smile when we talk to our friends about fancy dancing on a crowded floor. “If people could see us now,” sometimes we whispered in between songs, “actually doing all the footwork we try to teach them in those cavernous American halls.” But today, a Facebook post read, “I can’t believe it. Maipu 444, Villa Malcolm and now Niño Bien,” and we gasped, looking at each other as if trying to hold on to a memory that wanted to escape like the last breath of air that precedes death.
Click anywhere on the picture above to play, or HERE to watch on You Tube
We are very grateful for our time on this earth when we could set foot in Club Almagro, Akarense, and Niño Bien. We hope to have enough relevance left to be able to tell those who want to know, what it was like to be alive and dancing during those glorious years at the turn of the century.
A special thanks to you Valorie for being the inspiration to be myself.
This is how the Centro Region Leonesa salon looked like on the last night of the milonga Niño bien
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