Since its San Francisco debut in 1994, the ever-touring "Forever Tango," conceived and helmed by Luis Bravo, has varied little from its original format, a passion-infused survey of the history and artistry of the Argentine tango.

Since its San Francisco debut in 1994, the ever-touring “Forever Tango,” conceived and helmed by Luis Bravo, has varied little from its original format, a passion-infused survey of the history and artistry of the Argentine tango. The latest incarnation scores high marks when the six individual couples display their varying dance styles; the production tames down considerably when the full ensemble takes the stage. Driving the action is a superlative onstage 11-piece orchestra led by bandoneon (Argentine accordion) virtuoso Victor Lavallen.

The opening ensemble number, “El Suburbio,” purports to display the seedy late 19th century roots of the dance, utilizing rapid twists, turns, dips and frenetic footwork to underscore the tango’s macho development in the lowlife cafes and brothels of Buenos Aires. Despite the technical competence displayed, the dancing suffers from lackluster, repetitive choreography that runs out of ideas long before the number’s conclusion.

The same can be said for the two other major ensemble routines. The act-one closer, “Candombe,” one of the traditional Argentine dance forms, disintegrates into a pseudo-salsa by number’s end. The second act’s “La Cumparsita” further reveals an ensemble seemingly drained of energy and enthusiasm when dancing as a group.

The couples dancing escalates the show to a much higher level of artistry and gusto. Highlights include the laser-like footwork of Julio Altez and Carolina Garcia, who actually appear to drive the music during their outings on “Derecho Viejo” and “Melonguendo in el ’40.” Also notable is the highly sensual and dramatic interplay between Carlos Vera and Laura Marcarie as they undulate through “Derecho Viejo” and “Quejos de Bandoneon.”

Providing a pleasant diversion from the displays of rhythmic ardor and romance is the team of Cristian Cisneros and Virginia Porrino, who offer a zesty, humor-filled physicality that is as much a tribute to commedia dell’arte as it is to the tango.

The orchestral interludes provide a welcome sojourn through the harmonically rich melodies that underscore the dancing. One highlight is the sumptuous rendering of the tango standard “Jealousy,” featuring the soaring violin work of Rodion Boshoer.

The production’s only singer, baritone Martin de Leon, showed talent and ardor with his renditions of the ballads “Uno” and “El Dia Que Me Quieros” but was sabotaged by a faulty sound system that occasionally rendered his vocals inaudible.

Forever Tango

Wilshire Theater; 1,920 seats; $100 top

Production

A Wilshire Theater presentation of a dance revue in two acts, created and directed by Luis Bravo.

Creative

Music direction, Victor Lavallen. Choreography, the Dancers. Lighting, Luis Bravo; costumes, Argemira Affonso; sound, Mike Miller; hair and makeup, Jean Luc Don Vito; stage manager, Jorge Gonzalez. Opened, Feb. 29, 2008; closed March 2. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

The Dancers: Jorge Torres, Natalia Hills, Victoria Galoto, Juan Paulo Horvath, Carlos Vera, Laura Marcarie, Alejandro Gutty, Leonardo Barrionuevo, Cristian Cisneros, Virginia Porrino, Julio Altez, Carolina Garcia, David Leguizamon, Vanesa Villalba. Singer: Martin de Leon.

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