I cannot imagine that partnered dance gets any better than this. With his new production, Tango After Dark – having enjoyed its world premiere, in London, two days’ earlier – Germán Cornejo has created non-stop, slick entertainment, with never a dull moment in a show that ran 40 minutes over its allotted time, lasting more than two-and-a-half hours against a predicted run-time of 1hr and 50 minutes (including an interval). For once, this was of no concern. I’d have happily missed the last train, for dance this exhilarating!
It wasn’t always thus. Cornejo has brought tango shows to the Peacock Theatre regularly – most recently Tango Fire (2015 and 2017) and Immortal Tango (2016) – but there have always been aspects of the theatrical experience that fail to match the superb dancing and with both former shows, the overall impact was disappointing. I recall giving Immortal Tango just two stars.
In Tango After Dark, however, Cornejo has concocted the perfect (and I don’t use that word, lightly) combination of Astor Piazzolla’s unique Tango Argentino music, ten of the best tango dancers in the world, two charismatic singers and an outstanding septet of musicians, marshalled – of course – by Piazzolla’s own instrument of choice, the bandonéon (a type of concertina, as essential to tango as the guitar is to flamenco), played very sensitively by Clemente Carrascal. The melodic sensuality of this Argentine tango, with impossibly fast footwork and stunning lifts, evoked the unique racial and cultural amalgam present in the very best indigenous milongas (such as La Viruta or Porteño y Bailarín). It may have been ice-cold in snowy London but for a couple of hours in the Peacock Theatre it was midnight in steamy Buenos Aires.
Piazzolla’s music accompanies 27 numbers, all but four of which are danced with the choreography coming in a heady mix of duets (two in each act for the headline coupling of Cornejo and Gisella Galeassi and one in each act for their four supporting pairs), plus ensemble dances and some interesting variations, such as a mixed trio in Milonga, an all-male quartet to Bailongo in the first act with the brief reflection of an all-female quartet in the succeeding act.
Unsurprisingly, the most explosive movement came in the featured dancing of Cornejo and Galeassi, the lightning speed and precision of their interspersed legs peppered with a rich variety of lifts, including one-arm presages, and scintillating spins in hold. Both are former tango world champions (although not dancing together) and their passionate, eloquent dancing appears (certainly to my eye, at least) flawless with moments of gasp-out-loud excitement. Cornejo is the kernel of their dance, controlling every movement with nimble feet, elastic legs and immense upper-body strength; Galeassi follows her partner’s lead, matching his speed and rhythm, but the excellence of their dance depends upon her pliancy, plasticity and remaining calmly elegant while being lifted and spun at such velocity. Their excellence in the spotlight did not excuse Cornejo and Galeassi from playing the fifth pair in the group dances, each of which was performed with immaculate and uniform clarity.
The four supporting partnerships comprise a liberal scattering of other tango world champions, including Max Van Voorde and Solange Acosta (pupils of Cornejo). In Revirado and Primavera Porteña, Mariana Balois and Michaela Spina reached a similar pinnacle of electrifying tango that Cornejo and Galeassi attain as a given, but also imbued with a balletic grace. With her blonde hair styled long on one side, short on the other, Hebe Hernandez was an arresting presence, dancing the exciting penultimate tango – Adiós Nonino – with Nicolas Schell; and the most recent world champions (2015), Ezequiel Lopez and Camila Alegre – returning dancers from Tango Fire – performed two ebullient, challenging centrepieces to each act in Zum and Violentango.
The suave, sophisticated vocals of Jesús Hidalgo – also well-remembered from last year’s show – were another key ingredient, especially in the reprise from Tango Fire of the enigmatic Vuelvo el Sur, a song with emotional significance to all Latin Americans, danced as a sentimental solo by Alegre. Another returning singer was Antonela Cirillo whom I had both loved and loathed in Immortal Tango. Shorn of that show’s misguided attempts to set tango to western, easy-listening pop (I recall a dreadful Abba pastiche of Gimme Gimme Gimme), thus allowing Cirillo to sing comfortably in her own style and language, what was there not to love? She has definitely won me over.
A rich and varied wardrobe of costumes – all designed by the multi-talented Cornejo – added to the sparkle, not just for the dancers but also for Cirillo (shimmering electric blue) and the enigmatic violinist, Gemma Scalia (a gorgeous gold number).
In Tango After Dark, Cornejo has gone back to the nuevo tango traditions of Piazzolla’s opulent music without the hybrid experimentations of former shows (the Titanic theme song was a particular low) and the result is to fully illustrate the splendid, sensual, imposing extravagance of Argentine Tango at its very best, which – of course – has to be After Dark.