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.