When people hear about “a show with tango in it”, a stereotypical reference point for tango often comes from television shows like “Dancing with the Stars” or movies such as “Scent of a Woman”. For many, this is a superficial taste – just the tip of the iceberg. With just a bit of digging, one can find much more representations closer to what tango is like on a daily, “social” basis. A common reference for “stage” tango are productions like “Forever Tango,” or ones you can find daily in Buenos Aires and throughout the world. Yet, it’s not so common to see tango, live on-stage in a theater production. ELEVADA is that.
ELEVADA, presented by Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley, tells a story of family ties, friendship, and romance, with tango being one metaphorical element threading through the scenes and unfolding the romantic comedy to an ending that leaves you in awe. This is playwright Sheila Callaghan’s third production of the play, but a first time performance of a new draft with some re-writes completed right up until opening. As Director Susannah Martin put it during a pre-show ritual with the cast, “… it’s a show about letting yourself love and be loved, in the face of humanity, despite all the imperfections and bumps we all have…”
TANGO MEETS THE CAST
It is an honor to join the ELEVADA cast as dancers and tango consultants. As experienced social tango dancers and teachers, we feel a responsibility to represent tango on the stage for a largely uninformed public who might have misconceptions about the dance, or for whom tango is a bit of a mystery. Is it a dance for lovers-only? Is it “tango” because you see a man and woman – rose in the mouth of the one expressing the feminine, “follower” role? Or the “leader” might be wearing a dashing looking suit doing acrobatic tricks? Or even, is it only danced between a man and a woman? Some of these are stereotypes built over the years to help sell and promote the dance, and certainly without which tango would not have reached the popularity it has throughout the world. What is Tango?
We can’t help but ask ourselves these questions, which have often provoked long debates in the tango community. Thankfully, the diversity of the cast and production team and all our experiences working through rehearsals has enriched the dialogue.
What’s it like introducing tango to a group of modern/theatrical dancers and actors, choreographer, director, and crew? How does the challenge to make everyone look AND feel confident dancing tango on stage sound? And as an artist (both tango dancer and others), how and where does your art fit?
We’ve been teaching tango for a number of years and our students come to learn for various reasons such as, curiosity, need for new activities, or simply wanting something fun and social to do. A few get really hooked on the intricacies and subtleties tango can offer, while many don’t often find the drive and dedication to commit regularly to our typical 9-12 week series of classes. It is certainly a dance that is easy to start but can take a long time to master.
So with this tangible goal in mind – a show with scheduled dates and a timeline to production to follow – we found everyone in the production was incredibly open and excited to embrace tango. And, especially grateful to have some of our fellow cast even join us in our classes outside of rehearsals. Bravo!
From going through auditions, rehearsals for long weekends and weeknights, evolving and tweaking the choreography, fine-tuning the backstage transitions to be the most efficient as possible even until the day before Opening Night, to fiddling fingers while waiting in the dressing room, and quick costume changing between scenes, we all have been learning LOTS and lots of things beyond just dancing tango. Anyone involved in theater knows this is what it’s about.
Just as the improvisational aspect of dancing tango constantly encourages us to explore and learn something new, we actually learned what “elevada” in tango was thanks to the show. We appreciate our dear friend and teacher, Felipe Martinez, for reaching out to another notable tango dancer, teacher, and researcher, Gustavo Benzecry Sabá, on our behalf, about “elevadas”. Elevadas refers to a style of dancing tango that predates how it is now danced – lifting the feet higher off of the ground than the typical “caressing” and gliding over the floor that we have come to know and love – because back in the early days of tango, dancing happened on rough courtyards and dirty streets, and had not yet entered the heyday of smooth wooden floors in the dance clubs of the city.
So consider this aspect in the play more metaphor than literal. And again, the tango dancing itself is not the focus, with just a few minutes on the stage (yet “…the tango goes on forever”). As we witnessed the actors’ impassioned rehearsals, we ourselves quickly became passionate to support choreographer Natalie Green to develop a tango piece that does justice to the form and allows us to share a tango moment with a broader audience. Such a rare opportunity.
For us, the experience of sharing tango with our beloved cast and crew – what EVERYONE brought of themselves to the stage, absolutely lifted our appreciation for our dance, our arts, and the power of theater to evoke, entertain, and connect us to each other. For that, we are profoundly moved and grateful.
SEE IT YOURSELF
If you missed the sold-out Opening Night, you can still catch the show through November 17, 2019. Watch the trailer, read some reviews, and get your tickets here (special 2-for-1 discount code ABRAZO)!